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Full text of "Immigrant youth ministry : identity formation and second-generation Church of South India young people"

Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2013 



http://archive.org/details/immigrantyouthmiOOunse 



"Th es (S 



EPISCOPAL DIVINITY SCHOOL 



Thesis/Project 



Immigrant Youth Ministry: 

Identity Formation 

And 

Second-Generation Church of South India Young People 

BY 

KOSHY MATHEWS 



Bachelor of Science, University of Kerala, India 1970 

Masters of Divinity, Princeton Theological Seminary, 1977 

Masters of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 1981 



Submitted in partial fulfillment of the 

requirements for the degree of 

DOCTOR OF MINISTRY 

2000 



O Copyright by 

Koshy Mathews 

2000 



Approved by 



Supervisor 

& 
First Reader 



Sttxtft 




The Rev. Dr. Sheryl A. Kujawa 
Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology 
Director of Congregational Studies 



Second Reader 




The Rev. Dr. ChristopherJ^uraisingh^ 
Otis Charles Professor in Applied Theology 



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 

As someone who has not had any formal studies, let alone in theology, for many 
years and who has taken a long leave of absence from congregational ministry, I re- 
entered theological studies ambivalent and unsure. However, the warm, caring and 
supportive space EDS provided me in the last three years has been enabling and 
empowering. I am deeply grateful to the faculty and staff for allowing me to become a 
student once again. 

I am enormously grateful to Ian Douglas, Director of Anglican, Global, and 
Ecumenical Studies, whose encouragement and direction helped me pursue the Doctor of 
Ministry studies. I would like to thank Fredrica Harris Thompsett, Mary Wolfe Professor 
of Historical Theology, for her enthusiasm for my project and valuable insights in 
undertaking the study. I am most indebted to Christopher Duraisingh, Otis Charles 
Professor of Applied Theology, for his keen interest in me and the time he spent helping 
me sharpen my ideas and thoughts. 

My sincere appreciation goes to my thesis supervisor Sheryl Kujawa, Director of 
Congregational Studies. Her unflinching support and steadfast encouragement kept me 
focused on my task. Her deep interest and passion for multicultural church rekindled my 
interest in this study. I am deeply grateful to Sheryl for her willingness to share resources 
and time without which this thesis would not have happened. 

I want to thank all the second-generation young people I interviewed and spent 
time with in New York. I am appreciative of the support I received from the priests and 
some of the leaders of the two congregations I visited. I am also indebted to the Church 



u 



of India Congregation of New England, whose financial assistance helped me in my 
studies at the Episcopal Divinity School. 

My thanks go to Chip Fehsenfeld, Kay Herzog, and Judy Rice for proofreading 
and making valuable suggestions. Lastly, I am grateful to my wife Susan, for her 
unwavering support of my studies, and her willingness put up with all the untended 
projects at home which took a back seat during the course of this project. Engaging in 
this study with the support of these friends and colleagues has been for me a satisfying 
experience as it has helped me reflect on my own journey. 



IV 



Thesis Abstract 

This thesis focuses on the racial and religious identity development of second- 
generation Kerala Christian Americans belonging to the Church of South India (CSI) 
congregations in North America. The primary purpose of this study is to develop ways to 
carry out ethnic youth ministry that would be sensitive to the ethnic identity formation of 
second-generation young people. In the exploration of such a ministry, this study makes 
the assertion that ethnic identity development of these young people should be not only a 
theological imperative but also a paramount component of youth ministry of both ethnic 
and mainstream churches. The study is based on interviews with fifteen second- 
generation Indian American adolescents at two Church of South India congregations in 
greater New York City, as well as from what I observed during participation in worship 
services, youth meetings and home visitations. 

The second-generation Indian Americans of our sub-group develop their identity 
in the cloistered environment of their homes and in the Church of South India 
congregations, transplanted from Kerala by their parents. For the immigrant parents, the 
racial and religious identities are wrapped up in their being a Syrian Christian CSI 
community. The study makes two observations: one, ethnic church is seen and used by 
immigrant families as a refuge from the external polluting influences of moral decay and 
turpitude, and two, it is viewed as the sole guarantor of keeping the distinctness of their 
values and culture intact. Brought up in this environment, the second-generation young 
people grow into assuming this as their identity and liking it. However, I postulate that 
neither having been challenged in the crucible of American mainstream society nor 
having undergone a crisis experience, the second-generation adoption of ethnic identity 



should perhaps be viewed as rather premature. Notwithstanding the value and primacy of 
their ethnic identity, its formation has occurred in an environment where countervailing 
forces were not allowed to participate and compete. I conclude that, as a result, the 
second-generation Indian Americans of our sub-group are at a disadvantage and 
vulnerable as they enter the world of adulthood and assume responsibilities in 
mainstream society. Have the CSI young people developed sufficient skills in 
negotiating with competing views, values and norms of the host culture? Do they fully 
participate in their ethnic community, share its values, and value its traditions, or, do they 
only symbolically participate by adopting certain external symbols? 

This study will attempt to understand the experience of these young people from a 
theological perspective. It will offer some suggestions for future research and identify 
areas for further exploration. It will also make some recommendations for the ethnic and 
mainstream churches to engage in youth ministry. 



VI 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS iii 

ABSTRACT v 

Chapter 

1. INTRODUCTION 1 

2. PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF DISPLCEMENT AND RECOVERY... 12 

3. LITERATURE REVIEW: RACIAL AND RELIGIOUS IDENTITY 
FORMATION 26 

4. INTERVIEWS 37 

5. IDENTITY FORMATION: A THEOLOGICAL EXPLORATION 46 

6. MAINSTREAM CHURCH AND IMMIGRANT YOUTH MINISTRY 74 

APPENDIX 91 
Interview Format 

BIBLIOGRAPHY 93 



Vll 



Chapter One 
Introduction 

Rationale 

There are two reasons for my interest in the study of identity development in 
second-generation young people born to Christian parents who immigrated from Kerala, 
India, to the United States. First, as the father of two children who were born and brought 
up here, I, a Christian from Kerala, India, was naturally interested in seeing my children 
grow up in the Christian faith in this new place which I call home. I did not find rearing 
them up in the Christian faith alone posed a challenge for me, initially at least, because of 
the predominant Christian culture in the United States. However, the values, traditions 
and heritage that formed my Christian upbringing and shaped the contours of my 
formative years were not easily available for the formation of my children. I often 
wondered if I had made the right decision in coming to this country and then deciding to 
stay here and raise a family. Did I commit a Faustian mistake, gaining the opportunity for 
material well-being in exchange for the risk of losing my family? 

Another important reason, as a person who has recently entered the process of 
ordination for holy orders in the Episcopal Church, I often think about my understanding 
of the ministry to which God has called me. I also think about why is it that I am 
pursuing ordination in the Episcopal Church, and not in an Indian Church. I was born 
and brought up in India, a former British colony. The Church I was baptized into was 
Mar Thoma Syrian Church, an ancient tradition that claims its history goes back to the 



first century. There are many like myself living here with their families and children 
making this place their home. The Indian community, with their American-born children, 
has its own places of worship and cultural gathering. The Indian Christian community in 
the greater Boston area alone boasts seven or eight different places of worship including 
the Church of South India congregation, which meets once a month. While my family 
and I are communicant members of the local Episcopal congregation, we also worship at 
this CSI congregation. 

For many of us, raising children in a culture different from the one we grew up in 
is a new experience, and as we lack parents or any role models to follow. For our 
children, it feels like growing up in two cultures, parental culture at home and 
mainstream culture at school. This duality a tremendous problem for our families, 
causing some families to go back to India. For us, there have been two models of 
adaptation to choose from: isolation, which means remaining outside of the influences of 
the dominant society or assimilation, which means submerging into the dominant group 
and losing one's own identity. Depending on age, education, place of residence and a 
host of other variables, we choose to follow one of these two models. However, as our 
children grow, fault lines begin to appear in the social landscape of our immigrant 
community, challenging our earlier naive assumptions about our new home and our 
simplistic notions of adaptation. We realize that we are learning as we go along in these 
uncharted waters. No one has the answer. We are by and large groping in the dark. 

My sense of call to the ministry partially has to do with a burden I feel for this 
new generation of Indian Americans, including my own children. The priests who are 



sent from India for a brief period, being new to the area and not having enough time to 
learn about the context, are ill-equipped to deal with problems families and individuals 
face in their daily struggle. Families are left to their own imagination and creativity to 
solve their emotional, spiritual and social problems. I believe that for the ministry to be 
effective, it should be contextualized. The transplanted notions of ministry from back 
home have proved inadequate to meet the challenges and struggles of our families and 
communities in this post-modern society. I realized that for my ordination as well as for 
my future ministry I should approach a church that recognizes the radical shift from a 
traditional to a post-modern society. At this stage in my formation and developing 
pastoral identity, I am drawn closer to the spirituality offered by the Episcopal Church. 
Context 

Since the landmark Civil Rights Act legislation of 1965 and the subsequent 
relaxation in immigration, an unprecedented number and diversity of immigrants from 
Asian countries began to arrive to the United States. Among them are a sizable number 
of Christian immigrants from Kerala, India. In the last three decades their number has 
grown considerably. According to one source, at the beginning of 1995, the number of 
Asian-Indian Christians was estimated to be between 1 10,000 and 125,000, the majority 
of whom are from Kerala. 1 Unlike other immigrants from India, the subjects of our study 
are Christians, albeit from a different strand. The temptation to assimilate into this Judeo- 
Christian culture is felt more by these Asian-Indian Christians than by their non-Christian 
Indian counterparts. 



One of the many daunting issues facing the mainstream churches in North 
America today is the challenge posed by the ever-increasing ethnic diversity of North 
American demography. Never before in its North American history has the church 
confronted a challenge as large as this in its scope or as promising as this in its 
opportunity for growth. One of the ways the church will continue to be relevant to society 
in the new century will depend, in part, on how it will address the issue of incorporating 
the new influx of immigrants into the mainstream congregations. Statistical 
studies show that many of today's adult churchgoers have had earlier childhood and 
adolescent religious education and exposure in churches. 2 Will it be possible to say the 
same thing about today's immigrant children when they become adults and responsible 
members of larger society? It depends on how the mainstream church will see these 
second-generation young people, whether Christian or not, and minister to them. 
Objective 

My interest in the identity formation of second-generation children led me to 
choose it as the subject of this thesis. The broad aim of my research is to study the role of 
mainstream churches in the development of racial and religious identity in second- 
generation immigrants. Of particular interest to this paper is the narrow goal of seeing 
how the American-born children of Christian immigrant parents from Kerala, India, 
develop their racial and religious identity in the U.S. The underlying objective of this 
study is to develop some guidelines for the mainstream churches to enter into a mission 
of being a mentoring community to the second-generation ethnic adolescents. 



Chapter Summary 

I approach the subject first by tracing the course of my own identity 
development over the years through the present. In the second chapter, I will discuss my 
growing up in India, sense of call to ministry, moving to the United States, seeking 
community and my eventual decision to seek priesthood in the Episcopal Church. For a 
nation that prides itself as one built by the immigrants, it is not a surprise to see that a 
voluminous amount of literature has been devoted to the experience of immigrants who 
have come to these shores over the years. In the third chapter, I will sift through the 
literature and offer a quick review of current literature relevant to the subject of racial and 
spiritual identity development of children born of Christian immigrant parents from 
Kerala, India. This should help me to find out what is lacking in current discussions on 
the subject and to locate a space for further exploration. Much of my learning comes 
from watching my own children and observing their cohorts, so it is only fitting that I 
devote the fourth chapter to what I have learned from youth and young adults. This has 
been accomplished through conducting surveys of young people and in-depth interviews 
with fifteen young people ranging from ages 15 through 25. In the fifth chapter, I will 
attempt to explore the racial and religious identity of this sample group from a theological 
perspective. The concluding chapter is devoted to offering some directions for the future, 
especially in relation to the mainstream church's ministry among the children of 
immigrant groups. 



Definitions 

For the purposes of this thesis the following explanations and definitions pertain 
to frequently used names and terms: 
Acculturation 

Acculturation is the process or result of adopting the traits, habits, norms, or 
customs of another group through lengthy or continuous interaction. It is the degree to 

•y 

which an individual chooses to conform to the dominant group or culture. 
Assimilation 

Assimilation is process of one ethnic group adopting another group's (usually the 
dominant) way of living, values, habits, norms, or customs without critical reflection or 
thought to the point of complete loss one's own uniqueness. 
The Church of South India (CSI) 

The Church of South India (CSI) is a union of the Anglican Church and three post 
-Reformation traditions of the West (Presbyterian, Congregational, and Wesleyan 
Methodist) in India. It was formed on September 27, 1948, shortly after India became 
independent. This union of episcopal and non-episcopal churches within the structure of 
an episcopal church was termed by the World Council of Churches the greatest event in 
the history of the Christian Church since the Reformation. It came into being as the result 
of twenty-eight years of negotiations between the constituent churches in the southern 
states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. Divided into 21 dioceses, 
with 1,345 presbyters serving 8,715 congregations, the CSI boasts 1,718,265 baptized 
members. The Central Kerala Diocese is the largest diocese within the CSI and most of 



the CSI immigrants in the United States belong to this diocese. It is in communion with 
the Church of North India and the Mar Thoma Church. 4 
The Church of North India (CNI) 

The Church of North India came into being in 1970 as a union of the Anglican 
Church, the United Church of North India (union of Congregationalists and Presbyterians 
dating froml924), some Baptists, the Church of the Brethren, the Disciples of Christ, and 
the Methodist Church linked with Britain and Australia. Among the Indian Christian 
immigrants, the number of CNI members is not significant. 5 
Culture 

The collective behavior patterns, communication styles, beliefs, concepts, values, 
institutions, standards, and other factors unique to a community that are socially 
transmitted to individuals and to which individuals are expected to conform. 6 
Ethnic 

Of or relating people grouped according to a common racial, national, tribal, 
religious, linguistic, or cultural origin. People who share a sense of group identity 
because of these factors. 7 
Ethnicity 

A sense of togetherness shared by members of a group linked through cultural 

Q 

tradition, ancestry, national origin, history, or religion. 



First-Generation Immigrant 

Throughout this thesis I interchange first-generation immigrants with parents' 
generation. The person, who first emigrated from the country of his/her birth to come and 
settle in the United States is a first-generation immigrant. 
Identity 

Identity may be defined as a social construction of one's being in relation to the 
given reality of surrounding environment and acculturating influences. Perceptions and 
understanding of self are achieved through internalization of religious and secular 
beliefs as well as any social cues. Racial identity entails coming to terms with one's own 
race in relation to the context or environment. Assimilation into society with a strong 
sense of identity would be the ideal condition, and this was largely possible for European 
immigrants. The newer immigrants, in response to the racism they experience in society, 
tend to be low on assimilation and high on identity. 
Kerala 

Kerala State, located on the southern tip of India, bordering the Arabian Sea on 
the west and Western Ghats on the east, is the home of 29 million people (548 per sq. 
km.), making it one of most overcrowded places in the world. Lack of an industrial base 
keeps the state's unemployment rate very high. According to one estimate, over 1.9 
million Keralites live outside of India and 5.2 million in other parts of India. Kerala is 
also one of the most advanced states in India as it boasts a 100% literacy rate and the 
lowest infant mortality (19.5) and birth rates in India. It is also considered one of the most 
progressive states in India because of the land reform initiated by the first ever 



democratically elected Communist government in the world. Kerala has the largest 
Christian population in India, and this has resulted in the establishment of many 
educational institutions and hospitals. The combination of factors involving high literacy 
among both men and women, English as the medium of education, lack of industries and 
high unemployment has caused massive emigration to other parts of the world, including 
Gulf Countries, Europe and the United States. The immigrants are in search of better 
opportunities. Malayalam is the spoken language of Kerala and so the people from 
Kerala are also called Malayalees. Most of the Malayalees who immigrated to the United 
States are active Christians with high educational achievement and professional 
qualifications, largely concentrated on the East Coast, and in Texas and California. As 
these immigrants are well prepared, educated, and professionally qualified, there is no 
time lost between the time of their arrival and their entry into the job market. 9 
Multicultural 

Being multicultural is a state, which allows the co-existence of many distinct 
cultures within a given context, such as a community or nation. It is an approach through 
which genuine pluralism is achieved. It is a process, which envisions a society that does 
not allow hierarchic structures of dominant and dominated cultures. 10 Multicultural sm is 
a concept that allows a person to be who she or he is. Differences are not just permitted 
but celebrated and affirmed. 
Pluralism 

A state of society in which members of diverse gender, ethnic, racial, religious, or 
social groups maintain autonomous participation in both a common civilization and in 



separate cultural lines. 1 ' In separate groups, members may express their deepest 
identities, and in public domain, members are expected to follow the basis of rational 
principles that all groups can accept. The European immigrant assimilation into the 
American culture took place at a time when 'basis of rational principles that all groups 
can accept' was not challenged. Today, however, non-European immigrants interact with 
the public domain in a way that would affect the both the larger society and the ethnic 
community. This encounter of the ethnic groups with the mainstream is a constant and 
dynamic process, which is mutually beneficial. 
Second-Generation Immigrant 

Strictly speaking, a child who is born to the first-generation immigrant and lives 
here is a second-generation immigrant. However, for my study I also interviewed a young 
person who came to this country as a dependent at a very young age. 
Spiritual Identity 

Spiritual identity is a self-concept shaped by one's belief systems about visible 
and invisible realities that are held to be sacred. 
Syrian Christians 

Christians in Kerala trace their history through the centuries to Saint Thomas, one 
of the disciples of Christ. It is believed that he traveled to India in the first century, 
preached the gospel and converted a few Brahmin families. According to the tradition, 
these early converts established churches in different parts of Kerala, and today's Kerala 
Christians believe that they are descendents of the early converts of Saint Thomas. In the 



10 



intervening centuries, these Christians were visited by bishops and leaders from Syria 
who introduced the Syriac language and rites to help with the worship. As a result, the 
Saint Thomas Christians are also called Syrian Christians. At different points in its 
history, the descendents of these early Christians were influenced by foreign visitors and 
missionaries of different persuasions. Today, one would find Christians belonging to this 
tradition in all Christian denominations in Kerala. 



End Notes 

1 Raymond Brady Williams, Christian Pluralism in the United States (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge 
University Press, 1996), 39 

2 Robert Wuthnow, "Religious Upbringing: Does It Matter And If so. What Matters?" In Christ And The 
Adolescent: A Theological Approach To Youth Ministry, The 1996 Princeton Lectures On Youth, Church, 
And Culture, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, N. J. (1996), 79. 

3 For definition on Acculturation, see Diversity Awareness: Workshop Manual, ed., Tasha Lebow. 
Developed by the Michigan Metro Girl Scout Council and Programs for Educational Opportunity, The 
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (1992), p. 59. 

4 Williams, Christian Pluralism. P. 53 

5 Ibid., p.87 

6 For definition on Culture, see Diversity Awareness: Workshop Manual, ed., Tasha Lebow. Developed by 
the Michigan Metro Girl Scout Council and Programs for Educational Opportunity, The University of 
Michigan, Ann Arbor (1992), p. 59. 

7 Ibid., p. 60. 

8 Ibid., p. 60. 

Williams, Christian Pluralism, p. 39. 

10 For definition on multicultural , see Diversity Awareness: Workshop Manual, ed., Tasha Lebow. 
Developed by the Michigan Metro Girl Scout Council and Programs for Educational Opportunity, The 
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (1992), p. 59 

"lbid.,p.61. 



11 



Chapter Two 
Personal Experience of Displacement and Recovery 
Introduction 

I am a "hyphenated" American. I am an Asian-Indian-Syrian-Christian by birth, 
upbringing, and culture and an American by citizenship and having lived most of my 
adult life in the United States where I was married and am raising a family. I love my 
heritage, steeped in rich Syrian Christian culture and ancient wisdom. And I love also the 
new home that I intentionally chose for its dynamism, freedom and the idea of 
democracy. Can I assume multiple identities? Or, are these identities mutually exclusive? 

In the early seventies, when I left India for the United States for studies, I was not 
sure that I would eventually settle down here and raise a family. Though my father was 
excited about my going to the United States, he was concerned about the possibility of 
my being assimilated into the American culture. He was afraid that he might lose me, 
from my not being there to uphold the family name, cultural values and our Syrian 
Christian heritage. For me both the letting go of what was familiar, sure, and secure in the 
place of my birth and formative years and the tentative embracing of the unknowns of a 
new place and culture were not easy. 
Growing Up Privileged 

My birth and growing up in a middle class Syrian Christian family in Kerala 
assured me certain privileges of a dominant group, since Syrian Christians wielded a 
socio-economic, political and cultural power disproportionate to their number. It would 
serve one well in getting admissions to schools, being hired as an employee, or even 



12 



getting lenient judgements in the court system. Moreover, one did not think of it as an 
exploitative system. In the early years of growing up in Kerala, identity was not 
something that I was concerned about as I was part of the "norm and privileged." I 
remember vividly an incident when I was a fourth grader in school. Once after the classes 
were over, I brought home a friend from school to play. After some time when my 
mother saw me playing with this boy, she asked him about his parents, what they did and 
where they lived. Then she called me to the kitchen and told me to quickly send him 
home and that I should not bring home any more friends who belonged to the low-caste 
community. She told me the child I was playing with was the son of our dhobi 
(laundress). At that time I was too young to realize the cruelty of the racism and casteism 
that we, the dominant group, used to practice in Kerala. However, this incident left an 
unpleasant impression in my young mind. 

By the time I was in college, the under-privileged and backward communities had 
become more conscious of their civil and political rights under the constitution, and they 
demanded an end to the caste-based discrimination and abuses against them in Kerala. 
For the first time the institution of the church also was brought to a self-critical analysis 
and assessment of its political, cultural, and spiritual identity. I remember our local 
church youth group's criticism of the church hierarchy for not following the teachings of 
Jesus, especially in their treatment of the backward communities in our area. In college, I 
participated in political rallies and meetings, though I was not fully convinced of the 
merits of the issues that we fought for. Upon reflection today, it appears that some of that 
early activism were not well thought out or substantive. I also volunteered my time and 



13 



worked with a national social service agency in distributing food and medicine to the 
needy and homeless in poorer areas of the city. It was through these engagements and as 
a member of the church youth group that I began to see my place and self in the context 
of the environment. Just having completed the bachelors' degree program, I was expected 
to find a job and be financially helpful to my father. However, contrary to my parents' 
wishes, I was sensing a pull toward some form of work in a social or religious 
organization. I had already made a secret pledge to myself earlier at the funeral service of 
my grandfather, a devout Christian and a dedicated priest. However, I did not have the 
nerve to tell this to my parents who had high hopes of my being able to help them 
financially with all the family obligations. As I was weighing with these conflicting 
notions of vocation, I came to find out about opportunities for study abroad, possibly with 
full scholarship. The idea was attractive to my parents also. Within a short period, I was 
admitted with a full scholarship to study religion in a college in the United States 
Crossing Geographical Borders And Experiencing Spiritual Crisis 

I came to do my studies at a Bible college in Columbia, South Carolina, a place 
very different from what I had envisioned. It gave me such a cultural shock that I did not 
want to leave my dorm room for several days. The college was mostly white, except for 
the few international students from different parts of the world and two or three black day 
students from the South. I felt strange and out of place, especially when people started 
telling me about their born-again experiences with the precise date and time that they 
were saved. The literal interpretation of the Bible, the idea of faith being exclusively a 
personal matter, and the understanding of the doctrine of sanctification as separation from 



14 



society, all seemed odd to me. Questioning or challenging these positions and doctrines 
was not only not allowed but was thought to be the work of Satan. The first couple of 
years of my life in this school and in the fundamentalist Christian culture were like being 
caught in a doctrinal washing machine. I began to doubt my own feelings and myself. I 
hated myself for having any contrary thoughts, and prayed to God that he would make it 
easy for me to conform to the positions of the school. I spent many days and nights 
worrying about my own salvation, and I was continuing to experience the urge to 
question everything. There was increasing pressure on me to join one of the missionary 
organizations saving souls for Christ in India. However, despite all the pressures and 
guilt trips I was subjected to during this period, I kept my sanity and survived. Though it 
was a painfully devastating experience, I could see how this period had been instructive 
and formative for me. This led me to reflect on the validity of my experience of God's 
grace mediated to me during my upbringing in my church and community while growing 
up in India. Until then I had never been confronted with my own spiritual identity. After 
the initial crisis of faith, I experienced a better understanding of the process of 
conversion, which began during my youth in India. I rejected the notion of separating 
myself from my past, my family, culture and tradition. As I looked back, I could see the 
spirit of God leading me through this low point in my life. 

Upon receiving my diploma from the Bible College, I went to a Southern Baptist 
seminary in Texas. Although theologically this place was not any different from the Bible 
School, I enjoyed a freedom that I did not have before and was able to develop outside 
contacts. I felt I needed a new vision, a new challenge, and a new direction. I knew I 



15 



would be only wasting my time if I stayed on at this seminary. This led me to Princeton 

Theological Seminary. 

Spiritual And Racial Identity And Transformation 

I felt at home at Princeton, which gave me what I was looking for and more. 
However, in the beginning it was somewhat disconcerting, as I had not fully recovered 
from the catatonic feeling of my fundamentalist exposure. It felt, at Princeton, there was 
nothing that was theologically off limits. This sudden change I was experiencing was at 
first faith-shattering. What I considered sacred and basic to my faith from my childhood 
was suddenly fair game for open discussion and debates. However, the shock did not last 
long. For the first time, I did not feel guilty for challenging a triple-decker theory of 
Christian cosmology. Freedom to discuss honestly the disturbing aspects I came across 
as I engaged in textual criticism of the Bible was refreshing and uplifting. I did not have 
to defend God and apologize about the Bible any more. This was also the time I was 
introduced to the field of "Church and Society." I tremendously enjoyed and was 
transformed by the courses offered by professors Gibson Winter and Richard Shaull. 
Once again the gospel became alive and liberating. I began to look at my own life in the 
light of the freedom in Christ. I began to see my spiritual identity as a Christian in terms 
of my identification with the ones whom Jesus came to redeem. 

Challenging existing oppressive structures was not just something I read for a 
liberation theology course. As international students, some of us thought we were being 
treated by the seminary as the objects of its charity. So we, both students from first world 
as well as third world, organized a meeting and asked the president of the seminary to 



16 



meet with us to hear our demands. We were successful in meeting with the president and 
making our presentation. Whether it made any real change in the attitude of the school is 
another story. 

While at Princeton, I began a romantic relationship with one of my white female 
classmates. Until this time, I had been fighting off intimacy in relationships. Being a 
dutiful son, I had given my word to my father that I would not enter into any intimate 
relationship with someone outside of our Syrian Christian community. One of the things 
that worries most of our parents is what would happen to the continuity of tradition and 
family name if children marry outside of their particular tradition. I felt as if I were on a 
short leash. Entering into a romantic relationship with someone outside of my community 
meant that I was breaking the leash and venturing out of the clearly defined boundaries. 
However, as I continued this relationship I started to experience a freedom to challenge 
the validity of some of our social constructs, especially with respect to race and culture. 

Dating a white woman made me for the first time conscious of my own race. 
Visiting her family brought home the depth of our cultural differences. What would have 
gone unnoticed with respect to race and culture was all of a sudden brought to sharper 
focus and clearer understanding. In the end, however, it was the doubt about our own 
resolve to withstand the seemingly irreconcilable family opposition that brought our 
relationship to a close. In retrospect, I feel that this relationship, though short-lived, had 
helped me become aware of my uniqueness as an individual, my racial identity and my 
capacity for love and intimacy. Not long after this relationship ended, I married my wife, 



17 



who came from the same Syrian Christian community as I did. It must have fulfilled my 

father's wish as well. 

Finding Community And Discerning Vocation 

For a few months following marriage and graduation I visited India for the first 
time since I coming to the United States for studies. It seemed that India had undergone 
so many rapid social changes in the intervening years. I felt a distance from the middle 
class, whose lives had changed for the better, and a sense of sadness at the plight of the 
poor, whose condition I thought had grown worse. I became skeptical and impatient of 
the mainstream church. Though the institutional church was engaged in ministry among 
the poor in India, it did not identify with the poor and their suffering. 

Regarding vocation I was still not committed. Upon returning from India, I 
declined an offer to serve as an assistant pastor at a large urban Presbyterian parish in 
Philadelphia, as I somehow felt not ready for an ordained ministry. I wanted more time to 
think about ordination and a vocation that would last a lifetime. Until I could figure this 
out, I thought I would do some transitional jobs. For the next several years I held 
different jobs with no plans to build a career at any place where I worked. 

Meanwhile I stayed active in a local faith community as a layperson. During my 
years at the Bible College, I had longed for a faith community. I had felt isolated and 
marginalized, especially as a result of my unwillingness to let go of my tradition and 
culture and embrace the fundamentalist system of belief, whereas at Princeton, I had 
found a community that was strong and affirming. The church where I did my field work 
also provided community. To belong, I did not have to give up my past. Instead, my past, 



18 



tradition and culture were celebrated and affirmed. I believe this type of community is 
integral to a person's identity development. After my wife and I came to Massachusetts, 
where we settled and raised our family, we were blessed with such communities. As 
soon as we moved here, the local Episcopal priest visited with us and invited us to be part 
of his congregation, and this marked the beginning of our present relationship with the 
Episcopal Church. 
Affirmation of Call to Ministry 

The Episcopal congregation where we worshipped offered its space for our ethnic 
congregation to hold its monthly worship. We kept dual membership, in the local 
mainstream church and in the ethnic Church of South India congregation, and both 
churches provided for our need to be in community. Recognizing my gifts and 
theological education, they looked to me for leadership. I did everything I could as a non- 
ordained person for the spiritual growth of these communities. Over the years, many 
members in the CSI community have urged me to seek ordination so that I can provide 
them with ordained leadership. This led to my making the initial steps toward ordained 
ministry. The recognition of my gifts for spiritual leadership by the members of our faith 
communities and the need for ordained leadership in the CSI Congregation, as well as my 
own sense of calling to ministry, all pointed toward ordination. As I talked to various 
members of our community and to the members of the mainstream congregation, it 
became clearer to me that I should seek ordination in the Episcopal Church. I found their 
overwhelming support very affirming. Seeking ordination at this point in my life 
required me to make significant changes in my family's life. Disruption in lifestyle and 



19 



ensuing difficulties were all anticipated. As it is with any turning point in life, these are to 

be expected. 

Formation of Pastoral Identity 

When I visualize myself as a priest in a faith community, the image that comes to 
my mind is that of my grandfather. He was a man of faith and prayer, and he was blessed 
with the gift of healing. He had a remarkable ministry. He was courageous when he 
faced opposition from the church hierarchy. He stood firm and did what he thought was 
right and just. Since my mother had passed away when I was only four years old, he had 
taken my brother and me under his special care. I recall vividly the short walks I had 
with Grandpa along the banks of a small river next to his house, and afterward, he would 
take me to his prayer room and pray. As a young boy, this relationship with Grandpa 
made me special. I finished high school the year he died. I remember, standing next to his 
coffin, making myself a promise that one day I would become a priest like him. His 
memory continues to have a powerful influence on me. 

Another person who influenced me was our parish priest, the Rev. P. T. Thomas. I 
remember him as a very active and energetic person. He challenged people to think 
differently. He did not shy away from controversy and look for cover. He dared the 
hierarchy to be just in its decisions and policies. As he continued to be a thorn in the side 
of the vested interests in the church, he was marginalized and forced to leave the church. 
Among professors who influenced me most was Richard Shaull at Princeton. I was 
attracted to his simple life style, his sense of solidarity with the people of base 
communities of South America. I did not see him as a professor. I saw him as a 



20 



colleague, an equal. He challenged us to create new images and symbols so that our faith 
could relate to the human situation today. 

In retrospect, I can confidently say that the times I felt I grew more than at any 
other times were when I was part of a faith community. Being part of a faith community 
is crucial to one's spiritual growth. Part of being faithful has to do with living in faith in 
relation to the world context. My main criticism of the fundamentalist Christianity to 
which I was exposed to at the Bible College was its view of salvation as a personal matter 
between the individual and God, and as an end in itself with no resultant transformation 
and change in the social milieu. By selectively divorcing itself from the social problems 
in the world, it purports individualism and personal success using scriptures for 
validation. Though I memorized dozens of Bible verses, studied the Bible, and learned to 
do personal evangelism using simple spiritual laws, my education at the Bible College 
did not transform me, because of the absence of a contextual world in the equation. The 
broader faith community we are part of often fails to communicate the message we carry 
because of our lack of engagement with the world. A bifurcation of some sort exists 
between the world of "spiritually-oriented" church people and the world out there. This 
chasm was most evident for me when I was at the Bible college. 

My spiritual formation informs me that the role of the faith community is like that 
of the salt in its environs, an inconspicuous presence making a noticeable qualitative 
difference. When education is viewed only as transferring information or technique to 
achieve a certain goal, it loses its primary purpose of transformation of individuals and 
communities. Evangelism means making a difference in the lives of the people and 



21 



bringing about transformation in communities of people, rather than filling the pews of 
churches. Both in India and in the United States, I experienced growth as a Christian 
when I was part of a community committed to being transformed. It was within these 
communities that my spiritual gifts were developed and recognized. It was the 
affirmation I received from the community that led me to seek ordination. These 
communities continue to assist in my spiritual and pastoral identity formation. 

I often asked myself why, for someone who sensed a call to ministry at very 
young age, did it take this long to commit myself to seek ordination? There is no one 
reason for it. I could recite a number of factors, motivations and feelings that attributed to 
it. Topping them all has been finances and the fear of being poor. My grandfather was 
poor. His parents sent him to law school; however, after one year there, he quit law 
school and joined a seminary, shortly thereafter becoming a priest in Mar Thoma Church. 
With his eleven children, what he was getting as salary from the church was not 
anywhere near what was needed to support his family. He had relied on his siblings for 
financial help. I was named after him. Touched by his life, faith and ministry, I secretly 
made a promise to myself to become a priest. My vision of a priest will always be 
colored by my image of grandfather. Though his was a full and productive life, 
materially he was poor and in need. Because of this, I have always been ambivalent 
about my decision to seek ordination. 

Being a dutiful son to my father and pleasing him also played a role in my adult 
choices, including ordination. Though he was loving and caring, he was extremely 
coercive without being aware of it. It was he who decided that I would go to college and 



22 



in what subject I would major. Had I stayed in India, much more would have been 
decided by him. However, even after leaving India, I still felt his influence in my 
decision-making. He was not fond of my idea of going into ministry, as it would not be 
financially a viable option for our family and me. Still, the idea of coming to the United 
States for studies had its advantages. So he was for it. In my recent decision to seek 
ordination, I agonized over whether to maintain the status quo by continuing to do what I 
have been doing or to disturb the peace and go for ordination. It was a decision I had to 
make between the choices characterized by my father's practical realism and my 
grandfather's leap of faith. 
Reflection 

Making a decision in favor of ordination is easier now than it ever was before. I 
can say that it is the culmination of the transformation I experienced while I was at 
Princeton. Emboldened by what I was studying in religion and society courses offered by 
Gibson Winter and the liberation theology program led by Richard Shaull, I began to take 
an active role in determining my own destiny. What is handed down to me in the name 
of tradition, culture, religion, all must pass the litmus test of whether they are oppressive 
or liberative to those at the receiving end. In my case, entering into a loving relationship 
with an "outsider" was liberating. I knew that I was going against my father's wish. 
Being involved in this relationship despite parental disapproval for me was a sign of my 
ability to exert my right of self-determination. This was perhaps the first time I openly 
went against my father's wish. Education's transformational power was happening 
within me. 



23 



Real transformation must start with me. Princeton Theological Seminary itself 
provided the venue to test out my liberation and transformation. I was able to organize 
the international students at Princeton Seminary to protest against what we thought to be 
an unhealthy power relationship between the school administration and us. Ironically, 
even my decision not to accept ordination and priesthood at the end of seminary 
education had to do with this transformation I experienced. I needed more time to 
process my motivation in pursuing the whole ordination idea. The fact that everybody 
else was doing it and that it was easier at that time did not appeal to me. The decision to 
do anything, especially something as important as ordination, should be born out of 
transformational experience. 
Conclusion 

My hyphenated identity is the result of several border crossings. Each time I cross 
borders, I add a new identity to myself and become richer and fuller. Today, I am an 
Asian, Indian, American, Kerala Syrian Christian, Church of South India member, 
Episcopalian and soon-to-be-ordained-priest. Immigrant experience can be enriched, if it 
goes beyond mere geographical crossing. Faith communities, whether ethnic or 
mainstream, can serve one as a base or as a hideout. Using community as a hideout 
prevents one from crossing borders. And in order to cross borders and embrace "the 
other," one does not need to let go of his or her identity. Such border crossings allow one 
to have a multi-layered identity. The Church of South India second-generation youth find 
themselves at the border more so than their parents' generation. In the following chapters 



24 



we will examine how border crossing can be a liberating experience by reclaiming and 
strengthening identities. 



25 



Chapter Three 
Literature Review: Racial And Religious Identity Formation 

My attempt to review literature that deals with the specific topic of our inquiry, 
namely the formation of racial and religious identity among the second-generation born 
of Christian immigrant parents from the southern part of India, has made me realize that 
only very little has been written on the subject. However, the search has led me to a 
wide array of literature that discusses the formation of cultural identity, which includes 
both spiritual and racial identities among immigrant youth from differing backgrounds. 
While lessons can be gleaned from these works to suit some of the needs of our specific 
population, they are not specific enough to preclude the need for a separate study. 

The pattern of adaptation of new immigrants into American society has been 
different for different successive waves of immigrants to the United States 1 . Aronson 
holds that the ethnic and cultural identity developments of any group of people depend 
both on the historical and political contexts in which it finds itself and on their view of 
the condition and direction of society . The earliest model, popularly known as the 
'melting pot theory,' developed during the national concern over European immigration, 
predicted a "race relations cycle" of "contact, accommodation, assimilation," and 
ultimate "amalgamation" into American society through interracial marriage and social 
interaction . However, assuming a "straight-line theory" of assimilation based on one- 
way process of acculturation into the dominant society, this theory fell short in predicting 
the outcome for Asian immigrants and their subsequent experience. 



26 



In contrast, the new immigrant adaptation since the 1960s reveals a shift from the 
earlier pattern of the host society influencing the socialization to a pattern of new 
immigrants taking active roles in deciding the extent of their adaptation into the society. 
As a result, the pluralism concept of the earlier times has been democratized; the 
dichotomy between the old and the new has been blurred, and a resurgence of the ethnic 
pride of the previously colonized people has been established. It is ironic that at a time 
when the homogenizing concept of globalism and the integrating means of mass media 
are having their maximum influence in the United States, there is also on the part of new 
immigrants an intensification of assertiveness of their uniqueness and differences. 4 This 
development, though not contrary to the visions of the pluralism concept, is in conflict 
with the way pluralism has been practiced, namely, "the melting pot" process of 
assimilation. "The new immigration that has been entering the United States since the 
1970s has developed an acculturation strategy dramatically different from that of its 
European predecessors. This change has profound implications for the concept of 
pluralism and the course of intergroup relations in America." 5 

In the modern context, the earlier vision of pluralism is thought to be better 
achieved through the process of multiculturalism, expressed in culinary term as "the salad 
bowl theory." We live today in a multi-cultural society with our multi-cultural identities. 
We are known differently to different people, depending on the time of day and the 
crowd we are with. Unlike the case of previous immigrants of European origin, for the 
new immigrants full assimilation into the existing society has not been an option because 
of their racial features and religious backgrounds. 6 About this shift, Kitano writes, 



27 



One common image associated with immigrants is of crowded boats, the Statue of 
Liberty, Ellis Island, poverty, hard work, night school, and the Americanization of 
succeeding generations. This process, often referred to as the "European model" 
or "straight-line" theory, includes voluntary immigration, acculturation, 
integration, assimilation, and eventual absorption into the dominant society. This 
theory assumes that given sufficient time, anyone can become a part of the 
American mainstream by working hard, learning English and the American way, 
participating in the community, and blending into the mainstream. Those who do 
not are looked on as somehow lacking the motivation to become American." 

Kitano identifies a two-tier system of acculturation into American society, one 
for Europeans into the mainstream, and the other for Asians into a second-class social 
status as non-whites. This second-class social structure they share with native Americans 
and African Americans, Latinos. 

Moreover, the question of what criteria were used by the Immigration and 

Naturalization Service (INS) as to who would be eligible for immigration has had 

different answers at different periods in the American history based on the need for labor 

and the ethos of national politics. The dominant group determines the criteria based on 

how it would impact them. The "melting pot" process, advocated by the dominant group 

as a way of acculturation for any new arrivals, assumed eventual assimilation into 

American culture. However, this process proved to be more difficult in being applied to 

the non-European newer arrivals, who were allowed to come during the time of a tight 

labor market. To them assimilation without the benefit of being part of the mainstream is 

considered the same ploy used by their former colonizers back in their homelands a few 

years earlier. Politically astute and conscious, the emerging groups have opted instead 

the process of multiculturalism to achieve the ideal of pluralism. 

Often the charge is made that to be multicultural is divisive and that we are in 
danger of Balkanizing ourselves as a nation. The emergence of multicultural 



28 



consciousness as a fundamental aspect of democracy is an attempt on the part of 
many people of goodwill in connection to their deepest sources to turn our society 
away from the dominant stories that in fact now divide us as a people based on 
race, gender, class, and other such issues. It is precisely the refusal of the 
dominant in the United States to see the four faces of the others in this country 

o 

that so deeply divides us. 

A nation of subgroups each vying to assert themselves without understanding the 

others can be dangerous. Rubin writes, 

The challenge to American pluralism brought about by the drive toward 
separatism of the new immigration is disturbing for two reasons. First, ethnic 
conflict is always a danger to a multigroup society, but the threat would appear to 
be greater where groups fail to develop understanding and respect for one another 
through constant interaction. It is true that interaction can produce tension where 
encounters are conflictual, but the expectation of American pluralism has always 
been that group encounters would take place in an atmosphere of rationality and 
mutual respect." 9 

A multiculturally educated public and informed policy makers can avoid the 

danger of the many catastrophic confrontations that lurk within a multigroup nation like 

the United States. Regarding the importance of multicultural education, Gajendra K. 

Verma writes that, 

..in any large complex society it is rare to find that the population is 
homogeneous. Most societies are demographically pluralistic, characterized by 
the presence of two or more distinct groups which are differentiated in terms of 
language, ethnic characteristics and/or cultural heritages. In spite of such 
diversity, many nation-states have failed to recognize and support the 
heterogeneity of its citizens. In a world of increasing interdependence - 
economically, socially and politically - the education system has an increasingly 
important role to play in maintaining, sustaining and, in many cases, changing our 
conceptions of the world about us and of identities and roles within particular 
nations in this modern age. 10 

The subgroup on whom the present study focuses are the children of immigrants 

who came to the United States since 1965, a time when less restrictive immigration laws 

have been in effect as a result of Civil Rights legislation. It was also a time of 



29 



remarkable growth in this country, and the labor market was tight. A large percentage of 

the new immigrants were from India, especially Christians from Kerala. 

Chain migration is anchored in India in those areas having relatively large 
Christian populations, ones producing nurses and other technicians, and where the 
Christians have the education and linguistic ability in English to qualify for entry. 
The largest number of Christian immigrants is Keralites, Tamils, Telungu, Goans, 
and Gujaratis, with a smattering of representatives of other Indian regional- 
linguistic groups. The large majority, however, are from Kerala; indeed, most 
come from the fairly small central Travancore region. 11 

The fact that these immigrants are Christians from India, which is predominantly 

Hindu, and the fact that they are Christians belonging to a different tradition from that of 

their counterparts in the host country provide a new set of dynamics in the acculturation 

process. Raymond Williams observes, 

Each of these churches (C SI and CNI) is a territorial uniting church, so any 
concept of an extraterritorial diocese or the establishment of a separate 
denomination abroad is foreign to its genius and ethos. Nevertheless, members of 
both churches in America, especially of the larger CSI community, wish to 
maintain their identity and train their children within the context of language- 
based congregations Leaders in India and their own ecumenical ethos push CSI 

immigrants toward assimilation into American Christianity, especially into 
churches that are constituents of the uniting churches or in full communion with 
them. The need to preserve a living memory and a secure identity in the midst of 
the trauma of migration pulls them toward pluralism in congregations and toward 

1 9 

national organizations identified with Indian churches. 
An Identity In The Making 

In the push and pull of this debate whether to assimilate into the mainstream or to 
maintain separate identity by staying away, the children are often forgotten. At the 
crucial stage of their identity development, they are left to fend on their own. Are the 
Indian churches with ministers trained in India capable of providing young people the 
mentors they need? Can the churches, whether Indian or mainstream, help them sort out 



30 



their inquiries regarding racial and spiritual identity? What sort of support and help can 
they expect from the faith community they are part of as they continue to cross borders 
between parental and peer cultures and negotiate their way into developing their identity 
as Indian American Christians? 

The current church ministry among immigrants is less than adequate. Though 
written from a British immigrant perspective, Anna Chakko-George's analysis 
concerning the youth ministry among immigrants in England speaks for the immigrant 
youth ministry in the United States as well. " The obvious issue of the cultural and racial 
differences between the immigrant and mainstream communities, though recognized, is 
not dealt with, either for the sake of unity or because it is too difficult to handle. In the 
mainstream churches, the immigrant families are treated in a "colorblind" manner as if 
there existed no difference between them and the majority whites. "Colorblindness" is 
the legacy of the painful history of racism in America, and is identified as a new form of 
racism by Vallerie Batts. 14 In her book "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in 
the Cafeteria?" Beverly Tatum, talks about "colorblindness" as the result of an early 
socialization process in America. 15 This "colorblind" approach would have the immigrant 
families continue to shed their particular characteristics and values and adopt more and 
more mainstream behaviors and values. After a while the newcomers become 
assimilated into the melting pot, irrevocably losing their identity. 

The immigrant churches avoid the discussion of cultural and racial differences 
altogether by simply sticking together. Throughout the week the immigrant community is 
out in the mainstream society, working, shopping, riding trains and carrying on activities 



31 



of day-t-dayliving. However, when they come to worship, it is done in segregation. Their 

identity is never given an opportunity to be tested for its inter-cultural and inter-racial 

tolerance within a racially mixed religious or faith community. 

Just as the caste system is part of the society from which the immigrants come, 

racism is an undeniable part of life in this society. There is no wishing it away, and there 

is no hiding from it. Around the country, there have been several incidents of blatant 

racial attacks against Indians, such as the "dot buster" incident in September 1987 in 

Jersey City, New Jersey. People of Indian origin were also victims of job discrimination 

and glass ceiling. 16 Manning Marable, in his paper 

Race, Difference, and the Historical Imagination", writes, "Although anti-black 
racism was the dominant paradigm for institutional discrimination, a succession 
of other ethnic minorities who subsequently emigrated to the United States were 
also "racialized." Asian-American, Latino, and American Indian identities are all 
partially historical and cultural products of exclusion, segregation, the denial of 

1 1 

full political rights, and economic exploitation. 

It is in fighting against the system of racism that is prevalent in the host society 
and in joining hands with other immigrant communities and with all the other victimized 
that a new consciousness of themselves can be attained. Neither the "colorblind" 
approach of naive assimilation into a racist society nor the formation of exclusive "faith" 
communities would yield the kind of society envisioned in the Bible as the Kingdom of 
God. What makes the Indian American community unique must be affirmed and 
embraced and not avoided as a subject of fear and embarrassment. In the awareness and 
celebration of this uniqueness, identity is developed and, in the identification with other 
racialized and victimized minority communities, identity is realized as a human right. 



32 



Connection Between Racial and Spiritual Identity Development 

In the book "Why Are All Black Kids Sitting Together in Cafeteria!" Beverly D 

Tatum, writes, 

To find one's racial or ethnic identity, one must deal with negative 
stereotypes, resist internalizing negative self-perceptions, and affirm the meaning 
of ethnicity for oneself. If educators and parents wish to foster these positive 
psychological outcomes for the children in our, we must hear their voices and 
affirm their identities at school and at home. And we must interrupt the racism 
that places them at risk. 
On another level, Dean Borgman, in his book When Kumbaya is not Enough, talks about 

spiritual identity formation as a task in the adolescent stage, 

A person's identity includes cultural and spiritual dimensions. We experience 
problems and a lack of wholeness when we confuse the personal, sexual, ethnic, 
class, or vocational aspects of our uniqueness. One may be Asian, adopted, 
American, bright, ambitious, disadvantaged by poverty and social class, and Christian 
all at the same time. As a Christian living in a secular society, how does one make 
whole these aspects of one's cultural and spiritual identities? 1 

A theory developed by Derald Sue and David Sue called "Stages of Ethnic Minority 

Identity" appears to match the experience of Indian- American young people: 

a. The Conformity Stage . Children of elementary school age like to conform to their 
white peers. They hate wearing their ethnic clothes and putting dots on their 
foreheads as their parents do. They also do not like their school friends to see their 
parents in ethnic clothes. 

b. The Dissonance Stage . As they become teenagers, they begin to experience cultural 
confusion, conflict, or identity crises. Though they tend to rebel against parental and 
ethnic values, they develop a curious interest in their ethnic identity. In high school, 
they become vocal and assertive about their identity. 

c. The Resistance and Immersion Stage . During this stage, not only do they begin to 
immerse themselves in ethnic and cultural lives, but also they react quite emphatically 
against the white culture and values. 

d. The Introspection Stage . When loyalty to their ethnic group comes into conflict with 
personal autonomy, they come to realize some of the positive and desirable aspects of 
the values of the white society. This leads to further introspection and reflection. 

e. The Integrative and Awareness stage . As young adults, their goal becomes to 
develop a synergistic and integrated bicultural orientation that is more realistic and 

on 

workable for them. 



33 



This model appears to promote bicultural integration as the end goal. However, for 

the Christian second-generation youth ministry, this model is limiting in taking into 

account only two cultures simultaneously: the minority culture and the dominant culture. 

A model for Christian second-generation integration and identity formation may be found 

in the scriptural image of the household of God, which allows diverse identities of people 

to be affirmed, embraced, and celebrated. Korean American Professor Sang Hyun Lee, in 

an article on the Korean American church, discusses what it means to be Asian 

American. He states, 

If the Asian American church is going to be a true household of God, it must 
remember all of God's children in its envisioning of the new Asian American ethnicity 
and culture. Their envisioning of what it means to be Asian American, in other words, 
must be accompanied by their constructive participation with all other Americans in the 

*% 1 

ongoing search for what it means to be 'American.' 

C. Margaret Hall talks about the importance of religion and religious beliefs in the 

making of identity by citing Warner and Goode. She states, 

Traditional religious beliefs are influenced by secularization and the presence of 
increasing numbers of more varied religions, with the result that new kinds of 
religious expressions emerge. Nevertheless, however religions change, they continue 
to be the most significant sources of values and beliefs for many people, in that both 
traditional and emergent religious forms and processes provide purposes and 
directions for everyday behavior Warner, 1993). Furthermore, religions sacralize 
certain secular values and beliefs, so that ideals and optimal conditions become 
cherished goals for human endeavors, as well as signifiers of social status (Goode, 
1968). 22 

Leaving the problems associated with identities of ethnic and other social groups to 

their own devices as advocated by certain social thinkers has proved to be disastrous in 

its consequences. Miroslav Volf suggests that Christian theology ought to be able to 

provide the necessary basis for multicultural understanding among all cultures. He says, 



34 



"Christian theology has significant resources for reflecting on the relations between 
cultures." The concept of the household of God provides the scriptural answer to the 
modern problems of group conflict. Going back to the embedded wisdom of one's own 
spiritual tradition would prove to be beneficial as the young people of our study crossing 
the borders back and forth between the traditional parental culture and mainstream host 
culture. 



End Notes 

1 Harry H. L. Kittano, Roger Daniels, Asian Americans: Emerging Minorities, 2nd ed. (Engelwood Cliffs. 
NJ, 1988). 

2 D. Aronson. Ethnicity as a cultural system: An Introductory essay. In Ethnicity in the Americas, ed. 
F. Henry (The Hague: Mouton. 1976), pp.9-19. 

3 Kittano and Daniels, Asian Americans. 

Murray Friedman, Tribal Basis of American Life: Racial, Religious, and Ethnic Groups in Conflict, ed. 
Murray Friedman and Nancy Username (Westport. CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998), p.5. 

Gary E. Rubin, Immigration, Pluralism, and Public Policy in Tribal Basis of American Life: Racial, 
Religious, and Ethnic Groups in Conflict, ed. Murray Friedman and Nancy Isserman (Westport, CT: 
Praeger Publishers, 1998), p.21 

6 Ibid., p. 21 

7 Kittano and Daniels, Asian Americans, p. 2. 

8 David T. Abalos, Strategies of Transformation Toward a Multicultural Society: Fulfilling the Story of 
Democracy (Westport, CT, 1996), p. xvii. 



35 



9 Rubin, Immigration, Pluralism, and Public Policy, in Tribal Basis of American Life: Racial, Religious, 
and Ethnic Groups in Conflict, ed. Murray Friedman and Nancy Isserman (Westport CT: Praeger 
Publishers, 1998), p.24. 

10 Gajendra K. Verma. Cultural Diversity in Secondary Schools: Its Nature, Extent and Curricular 
Implications in The Foundation Subjects & Religious Education in Secondary Schools ed. Peter D. 
Pumbrey and Gajendra K. Verma (London: The Falmer Press. 1993), 15 

11 Raymond B. Williams. Christian Pluralism in the United States (Cambridge, University Press, 1996), 39 

12 Ibid., 151. 

13 Anna Chakko-George. "Iconoclasm: Shattering "Ethnic Minority" Youth Work" in Disorganized 
Religion: The Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults. Ed. Sheryl A. Kujawa (Cambridge, MA: Cowley 
Publications 1998), pp-73-85. 

Valerie Batts, "Modern Racism: New Melody for the Same Old Tunes" Episcopal Divinity School 
Occasional Paper, EDS, Cambridge, MA No. 2, (May 1998), 9. 

15 Beverly D. Tatum, "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? " (New York, NY, 
BasicBooks, 1997), 95. 

6 U. S. Commission On Civil Rights, Civil Rights Issues Facing Asian Americans in the 1990s. 
A Report of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, (February 1992), 29. 

17 Manning Marable, Race, Difference, and the Historical Imagination, Episcopal Divinity School 
Occasional Papers, EDS, Cambridge, MA No. I, (January, 1998), 3. 

18 Beverly D. Tatum, "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? " (New York, NY, 
BasicBooks, 1997) 

19 Dean Borgman, When Kumbaya Is Not Enough: A Practical Theology for Youth Ministry (Peabody. 
MA, Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 76. 

Grace Sangok Kim, "Asian North American Youth: Ministry of Self-Identity and Pastoral Care," in 
David Ng (ed.), People On the Way. (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1996), 201. 



21 



Sang Hyun Lee. "Pilgrimage and Home in the Wilderness of Marginality: Symbols and Context in Asian 



American Theology," The Princeton Seminary Bulletin, Vol. XVI No. 1 (February, 1995), 49. 

2 C. Margaret Hall. Identity, Religion, and Values: Implications for Practitioners. (Washington, DC: 
Taylor & Francis, 1996), 173. 

Judith M. Gundry- Volf and Miroslav Volf, A Spacious Heart: Essays on Identity and Belonging 
(Harrisburg, PA, Trinity Press International, 1997), 9. 



36 



Chapter Four 
Interviews 

In this chapter I seek to clarify the racial and religious identity construction of 
second-generation Kerala Christian American adolescents before they assume the roles 
and responsibilities of adulthood. While the factors that may contribute to identity 
development among young persons are numerous and include questions of region, 
language, gender, sexual orientation, class, race/ethnicity and religion, this paper limits 
itself to a discussion of only the last two factors. 

There is wide agreement among psychologists and social scientists about the 
central significance of the teen years in the development of identity and how this period is 
crucial in the formation of personality, faith, and moral development. They all agree that 
the convergence of a number of factors - biological changes associated with puberty, the 
maturation of cognitive abilities, and societal expectations - help bring the urgent process 
of "identity-consciousness" to full throttle. However, the models of identity formation 
developed in the West are not appropriate to study the identity, let alone the ethnic 
identity development, of Indian American youth. 

The subjects of our subgroup experience additional challenges in their lives 
simply by the fact that they belong to a second-generation ethnic group. Ethnic identity 
development among adolescents is a process that happens uniquely among children born 
in ethnic minority status. For children born in the dominant culture, ethnic consciousness 
is not a primary concern since they consider their own ethnicity the norm. 1 Unlike that of 
children belonging to the dominant culture, minority ethnic children's ego development is 



37 



self-consciously tied to their understanding of their own ethnic identity. In other words, 
for an ethnic adolescent there is an additional factor s/he needs to resolve, namely his or 
her ethnic identity, before the task of adolescence is completed. As there is not much 
work done by way of scholarship on this targeted population, I rely heavily on my 
findings from interviews conducted with second-generation Kerala Christian Americans 
in the New York area. I will then compare these findings to findings from research 
conducted on similar ethnic populations elsewhere to find either consonance or 
dissonance. 
Second-Generation CSI Kerala Christian Americans in New York 

I chose to do my field study in two different CSI congregations in New York City 
because of their large number of young people and active youth groups. Both these 
congregations are in stark contrast to my CSI congregation in Massachusetts. Unlike my 
congregation, which meets once a month and conducts services only in English, these 
congregations meet for worship services every Sunday and conduct their worship 
services in Malayalam, except on one Sunday a month when it is done in English. I 
learned that at both congregations young people attend worship services more regularly 
than adults do, regardless of the language in which the services are celebrated. Over a 
period of several weeks, I interviewed 15 young persons from these two different CSI 
congregations, and attended worship services and youth meetings. I was curious to find 
out the reasons behind the success of these congregations, which are typical of 
congregations in general in the tri- State area of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, 
in attracting and retaining the second-generation youngsters. My analysis is based on 



38 



participant observation, in-depth interviews with youth, adults, and clergy, and the 
content of sermons preached on the Sundays I was there. 

As I have stated, I was interested to find out what motivates these young people to 
return to church Sunday after Sunday for worship services and even on weekdays for 
youth activities, driving long distances from their college dorms or from their homes. 
Some of these young people have completed four-year colleges and are currently working 
in area companies in a professional capacity. Born and brought up in the New York area, 
most of them do not read or write Malayalam, their parents' language. However, they can 
follow and hold conversations in Malayalam fairly well. Participants in the interviews 
appeared committed religiously, and they professed their strong faith in God using 
fundamentalist language. 

When I asked the question what motivates them go to the CSI congregation, a 
preponderance of them answered, "raised that way." Some answered, "a good place to 
hangout." They also responded, "no other place parents allow us to socialize." Given the 
kind of faith they profess, to my surprise, no one gave a strictly religious reason for 
belonging the church. In response to inquiries about their faith formation, most of them 
answered that they learned about faith through their parents and through annual CSI 
retreats. Regarding attendance at the local mainstream churches in their neighborhood, 
the response was that it never occurred to them that it was an option. A few answered 
that when they were young, their parents had allowed them to go to the Sunday Schools 
of the local churches. When I challenged by the question that if they could go to a local 



39 



church would they do so, most answered that they would not because it would make the 
parents very unhappy. 

They hold the view that for their parents, church is an integral part of their lives 
and that if children did not go with them to church, parents would not look good in the 
community. However, the older respondents, ages 19-24, who are in college or working, 
answered differently: they said that they go to the CSI congregation for a sense of 
belonging, a place they can return to and be comfortable with others they grew up with. It 
appeared the respondents between ages 15 and 18 attend church motivated by a sense of 
obligation to parents, whereas the respondents between ages 1 9 and 23 are motivated by 
their own sense of need to be part of an ethnic group now and for future. They hold the 
view that regardless of the flaws of their church, it is the best place for them to be heard, 
understood and affirmed. All the respondents emphatically said that it is not for the 
sermon or for the worship service, which are most often done in Malayalam, that they 
come to church; rather they come for the youth fellowship and Bible study. They confide 
in one another about what is going on in their lives and receive strength from one 
another. When asked why they do not seek their Achans , as Malayalees call their 
priests, for counseling, all of them responded that Achans do not understand them. It 
appeared as though the youth have formed a church of their own within the larger 
congregation. 

What are some of the explanations for these not-so-enthusiastic responses that 
somehow do not match the outward appearance of a strong sense of attachment to the 
ethnic CSI congregation? The more reflective responses by the older respondents seem 



40 



to suggest that their interest in church participation is acquired first by going for several 
years on parental insistence. For parents who formed the congregations upon arrival in 
this country, the congregation serves the purpose of an institutional framework for 
formation of community, preservation of their Syrian Christian heritage, and transmission 
of cultural values. Also, the founding of these congregations helped these immigrants 
make the transition from the status of sojourners to that of residents. It became a spiritual 
home. Among all immigrant groups from India, the members of the CSI have the least 
reason to form a separate entity in the United States because of its Protestant Christian 
form of worship. Moreover, the CSI is a geographically defined and confined union of 
Protestant denominations that are widely common in the United States. 

This would prompt one to conclude that there is no need for Church of South 
India congregations in the United States, except for the purpose of retaining the ethnic 
identity of these Christians from the Southern part of India. For the founders of these 
Kerala CSI congregations in the United States, the fact that they belong to another 
distinct group called Syrian Christians of Kerala is another reason to have a separate 
ethnic congregation of their own. However, one would wonder how, for the second- 
generation Kerala CSI Americans, do these differences and distinctions carry any weight 
as far as their religious lives in this country are concerned? For the younger respondents 
they matter little, whereas for the older respondents they formed the basis for ethnic 
cohesion and unity. And for parents, how much their values, ways of life and traditions 
will be transmitted to the next generation largely depends on the institution of the church 
and how strictly they enforce religious adherence in the young. Religion plays a central 



41 



role in mitigating the disruptions and strains caused by migration. This is especially true 

in the United States. Americans view religion as the most acceptable and nonthreatening 

basis for community formation and expression. Raymond B. Williams states, "Religion 

helps shape both minority identity and the negotiations with majority community 

regarding status, identity, and opportunity." 5 

While motivation for ethnic church involvement is partly due to the primordial 

attachment to shared ancestry, culture and aspirations, with respect to the parents of our 

subgroup, it is largely due to the developmental aspect of reacting to the new 

environment where they are to settle. Unlike the European immigrants of the past, who 

were able more easily to blend in with the rest upon their arrival, the new immigrants, 

though they share the same religious past as the host culture, are separated from the 

dominant society by the ascriptive and involuntary nature of their race, color and 

phenotypic features. Even without the overt signals and signs that distinguish them from 

the host culture, such as dress, language, and life style, they are a visible community. 

Having lost confidence in being able to fully assimilate into the host community due to 

these external markers, the immigrant community is driven to attach itself to the basic 

core values of their culture mediated through religion. In a field study Prema Kurian 

observes, 

Many of the Indian immigrants I have spoken to mentioned that they had become 
more religious after coming to this country, where for the first time they had to 
think about the meaning of their religion and religious identity, something they 
could take for granted in India. 6 

Chong notes a similar phenomenon in her field study on Korean Americans: 



42 



...one of the most significant ways in which the second-generation members 
within the church articulate their ethnic identity is through the appropriation of 
certain elements of "practiced culture," that is, values and standards of traditional 
Korean morality. These values, ubiquitously invoked in their discourse about 
their Korean identity, consist of a set of core traditional Korean Confucian values 
- most significantly, filial piety, respect for parents, family-centeredness, and 
work ethic. 

The responses of all my interviewees, regardless of their ages, demonstrated 
respect for their parents and elders in the community, which means all the parents and 
grandparents. Youth call all adults except their own parents 'uncles' and l auntees\ and 
the grandparents are called either appacha (grandpa) and ammachi (grandma). In most 
homes, children continue to stay with parents even after college and beginning to earn a 
living on their own. Children also see that their parents bring their grandparents from 
India to live with them in the United States rather than leaving them in India alone, a 
clear indication of family values practiced as preached from the pulpit. 

Some of my respondents, especially the girls, told me how strict parents are with 
them about hanging out with peers from school, especially if the peers are boys. They 
also complained that parents do not allow them to go to parties, movies or games with 
their friends. While they acknowledge that parents enforce these restrictions for their own 
safety, they think that their parents are overprotective of them. They also think that 
parents are more cautious with their daughters because girls are expected to be chaste and 
pure so that the tradition will go on intact. Maira states, "In the second generation, young 
women are viewed as embodying ethnic boundaries and their social and sexual behavior 
is monitored as an index of ethnic authenticity." 8 At family parties or community get- 
togethers, men, women and youth are often seen separately. This is how they sit in the 



43 



church for worship and community meetings, a practice continued from Kerala. Young 
girls, following the adult women, wear a head-scarf while they are in the church, another 
Christian practice from Kerala. 

Some of the young people's responses to faith questions showed deep 
commitment to Christianity, and this voiced in Christian fundamentalist terms. When 
pushed further as to what their Christian commitment means in their daily lives, some 
responded that it meant being a good person, obeying parents, respecting elders, going to 
church regularly and having a strong work ethic. Faith also means to them helping others, 
the poor and homeless, especially in this country. Given the regularity of their church 
attendance, I was puzzled by their common response that faith was imparted to them by 
parents rather by the priests in the church. This may have been partly due to Achen 's 
preaching in Malayalam; even when they preach in English, it still does not speak to the 
youth, because the illustrations used in sermons are far from the reality they experience in 
their everyday lives. Most of the young people wished they had Achens who could really 
communicate with them. The sermon preached on one day I attended worship had to do 
with the moral depravity, decay and degradation in this country with regard to sexual 
promiscuity and homosexuality, and with how people must guard against the liberal 
sexual morality in the West through strong faith in Jesus Christ. Whether or not the 
church is all that it can be, it is seen as the symbol of Kerala Christian morality. This 
"immigrant Puritanism" according to Williams is "a predictable reaction to the ethical 
and behavioral disorientation that affects immigrants." 9 He goes on to say, "Nevertheless, 
the demonstrated need for most immigrants to give expression to their experience in 



44 



religious terms and to attempt to shape their future in religious communities does provide 
a recognizable Puritan cast to immigrant religions that is revitalized by the arrival of new 
immigrants." 10 The church in the immigrant community gives a stamp of approval to 
their values and culture and provides legitimacy for their ethnicity. 



End Notes 

1 Beverly Daniel Tatum, "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? " (New York, N.Y: 
BasicBooks, 1997), p. 93. 

Achan is a Malayalam word for priest or pastor. A priest is never called by his/her name by Malayalees. 

3 Malayalee is the person who speaks the language Malaya lam, the regional language of Kerala State, 
India. A person from Kerala is either called Keralite or Malayalee. 

4 Stephen Warner, Toward a new paradigm for the sociological study of religion in the United States. 
American Journal of Sociology, 98, 1058. 

5 Raymond B. Williams. Christian Pluralism in the United States (Cambridge: University Press. 1996), 
p.183. 

5 Prema Kurian, "Gendered ethnicity: Creating a Hindu Indian identity in the United States," The 
American Behavioral Scientist (Thousand Oaks) (Jan. 1999): p. 648. 

7 Kelly H. Chong, "What it means to be Christian: The role of religion in the construction of ethnic identity 
and boundary among second-generation Korean Americans." Sociology of Religion, (Washington) (Fall, 
1998): p.259. 

Sunaina Marr Maira. Chaste Identities, Ethnic Yearnings: Second-Generation Indian Americans In New 
York City, Dissertation, Graduate School of Education of Harvard University, 1998: vi. 

9 Williams, 183. 

10 Ibid., 183 



45 



Chapter Five 
Identity Formation: A Theological Exploration 



The experiences of young people in our study are different from those of their 
parents' generation. In the previous chapter we have observed how their experiences 
shape and form the contours of their identity in a distinct way. As the purpose of this 
study is to develop ways to do youth ministry, an understanding of their identity from a 
theological perspective is also necessary. In this chapter, I argue that those who are 
engaged in ministering to the ethnic youth not only need to understand and affirm their 
identity but also need to make the formation of their identity itself a task of youth 
ministry. 

Reaching an understanding of the intrinsic relation between the environment in 
which our young people live, work, and socialize and their identity is central to this 
study. The milieu they live in is characterized by the blatancy of its contradictions, 
ambiguity of its boundaries, and its lack of role models. How the nature of their context 
relates to the way they understand themselves and make meaning of their world is a 
question of crucial theological importance. 
Immigrant and theological significance of context 

For the young people who are the subject of this study, the lives they lead, the 
context in which they live, and the challenges they encounter are all different from those 
of their parents' generation and those of their mainstream counterparts. Traditional and 
"normative" theologies fall short of addressing the particular concerns of second- 



46 



generation CSI Kerala American young people. This calls for an contextual theology that 

takes into account the particularity of their experience and affirms their identity. This is 

the theological parallel to the multicultural pattern of adaptation to the American society. 

Though it appears very post-modern in its manifestation, it is as old as the biblical 

incarnational theology. However, this theological affirmation of particular identities 

draws a sharp distinction from the assimilation pattern of earlier Asian migrations as 

observed by Fumitaka Matsuoka: 

At the same time, many viewed churches as a major route and catalyst towards 
assimilation, which in reality meant accommodation to the values of the dominant 
European American social order. Early Asian immigrants found membership in 
Christian churches, as a way to be quickly identified as American and avoid being 
continually labeled "alien." Some immigrants assumed that one quick, acceptable 
way to assimilate was to convert to Christianity, the principal faith and major 
cultural force of the land. 1 

Early immigrants passively followed the pattern practiced during colonial times 

by identifying with the white culture, values, and ethos. To be socialized into the "right" 

culture assured them social mobility. M. Shawn Copeland describes what was meant by 

the "right" culture thus: "....in America, to be cultured was to appropriate and to imitate 

the style and content of European civilization; in fact, to be American meant to imitate 

the style and content of European civilization." Churches played a pivotal role in the 

socialization of early immigrants to the United States and helped maintain the cultural 

hegemony of dominant culture. For mainline churches, newly arrived immigrants from 

the previously colonized nations became the new mission fields. Protestant home mission 

boards saw Asian immigrants as objects of missionary zeal, people to be "converted" and 

immigrants to be assimilated into one America. 



47 



In recent years, the mainline churches have moved away from actively playing the 
role of socializing agent for the republic whose slogan was e pluribus unum ("from many, 
one"). Yet, every now and then, especially during times of national crisis, the 
homogenizing tendencies of earlier times can be heard in the rhetoric of ultra- 
nationalistic and extreme Christian fundamentalist circles. However, increasingly 
assertive and politically astute newer arrivals to the United States have changed the 
discussion about the pattern of adaptation from passive assimilation to an assertive 
integration which finds its expression in a multicultural society. Peter Phan sees this 
development in the light of post-modernity. 

Even though ethnic and national consciousness is not of recent vintage, 
nevertheless, in our "post-modern" age, these two contexts of religious experience 
have undergone a significant change, and hence the ways in which they shape 
religious experience have presumably altered as well. Thus, for instance, however 
"post-modenity" is defined, it is clear that in our times the ideal of ethnic 
homogeneity is being vociferously rejected, at least in the United States, and as a 
result, instead of the "melting pot" model, that of the "salad bowl" is being 
proposed for our multi-ethnic and multi-racial culture. 

In addition to the newer immigrants, the second-generation immigrants are also a 
factor in influencing the pattern of adaptation from the previous assimilative mono- 
cultural society to the present integrative multicultural society. The subgroup of our study 
is clearly a distinct group, who sees reality differently from the ways of their parents or 
that of their counterparts in the mainstream society. As a group their influence in defining 
their ethnic group and the mainstream society will continue to grow in the years to come. 
In order to do ministry among this group, a theological understanding that makes sense 
of their experiences must be achieved. 



48 



A Theology That Matters 

A theology that matters is a theology that is contextual and incarnational. The 
gospel says that God, who loves the world very much, entered the world at a particular 
place and time in history for its redemption, and asked his disciples to preach this good 
news of redemption to people where ever they live, even to the ends of the world. To do 
so in human history, the universal God took the form of a human in Jesus and lived 
among the people of Israel. At any point in history and place, the world is manifested in 
its culture. As Jesus enters the culture, his intention is not to destroy it but to fulfill its 
potential by transforming it. Through the preaching of the gospel, this universal God 
continues to enter our cultures, lives among its inhabitants, urging them to make meaning 
of their experiences and lives, and transforming them into a new creation with a new 
identity. 

As second-generation young people struggle to find their own voice and identity, 
the choices are many. Anna Chacko-George, a youth minister in England, in her essay 
"Iconoclasm," sees that there are two choices for young people. One is the path of 
"cultural schizophrenia," which she describes as the status quo of growing up by living in 
two different mindsets and ethical frameworks. And the other is the path of "cultural 
amnesia" which is an all out assimilation into the Western culture, forgetting one's own 
cultural heritage and story. As both these options fall short of realizing an actual identity 
that is true to their concept of self, which is born out of struggle, she suggests a third way, 
a creative identity which is neither the old one nor the one promoted by the dominant 



49 



culture. It is a God-centered identity. 5 Ellen T. Charry observes from a mainstream 

Christian perspective on the current youth culture: 

There is a gathering consensus that the young in our society are adrift and in 
danger. Their self-concept is predominantly shaped by entertainment, and they 
are likely to turn to one another, rather than to adults for help. Yet, while adults 
wring their hands, the market is giving children a self-concept and role models 
that are increasingly ignoble. In addition, the extreme individualism of the culture 
turns the young away from adults and organized community life. Finally, 
suspicion of the past and of institutions alienates the young from traditional 
sources of wisdom and safety. Materialism, individualism, and the loss of the 
past may keep the economy booming, but the combination is proving to be 
spiritually and physically debilitating. 6 

With the failure of past models to provide the young needed direction and sufficient 

guidance, young people, whether from the dominant or the ethnic culture, are turning to a 

market-shaped identity for themselves. How can Christian youth ministry be effective in 

turning the tide, and provide young people with an alternative, a God-centered identity? 

How does Christ enter their culture and make meaning for their situations and 

experiences? I suggest that we briefly look at four contextual factors of their social 

location with accompanying theological reflection and exploration of opportunities for 

Christian ministry. 

Homelessness 

Unlike the first-generation, who lives in isolated enclaves, the second-generation 

young people of our study live on the border between the inherited culture of their 

parents and the encountered culture of the mainstream society. They sense apprehension 

as well as freedom in making the choice of where they may eventually call "home." Their 

apprehension is due to making a commitment, while the freedom comes from a lack of 

understanding about their identity. The isolated communities or enclaves parents created 



50 



offer security in a foreign land and a feeling of accomplishment for the first-generation. 
Most often these communities were created to protect their young, to continue the ways 
of the old country, and to preserve their faith along with an ancient culture. However, as 
time passes and as they socialize more and more in the mainstream society through 
schools, young people feel that they have grown out of the usefulness of these enclaves 
parents created for their protection. Moreover, they do not feel the burden as their parents 
do in preserving the old culture. Also, unlike parents, for young people the ethnic church 
is not the only place for community. As far as they are concerned, their parents' agenda 
and issues have very little to do with the realities of the present. And as they grow, their 
participation in the parents' culture becomes superficial and symbolic, born out of 
necessity while growing up at home and out of obligation to the parents. 

In contrast, young people are more at ease with the mainstream society. They are 
multi-lingual and multi-cultural. They are future-oriented. The contrasting cultures they 
grow up in are highly competitive in demanding of them their full participation. Growing 
up in the parents' culture at home and in church, on the one hand, and in the peer and 
dominant culture at school and outside, on the other, gives them both versatility in 
cultural understanding and the ability to adapt to conflicting environments. In as much as 
they are allowed to participate in both worlds while growing up, they develop a sense of 
confidence and the ability to be dual citizens in both places. 

Nevertheless, they are neither there nor here, and their total acceptability in either 
place is anything but guaranteed. They are in between, out of place, and are "homeless." 
Theirs is a confidence that has not been tested for its durability as they themselves are 



51 



quite young. Their experience of growing up in different cultural spheres is the crucial 
factor in the formation of their identity. The identity when formed will be different both 
from that of their parents and from that of the dominant culture. It will form a hybrid 
identity, more complex than the ones they were exposed to growing up. Consequently, 
they lack authenticity in either culture. While they could be in both places, their full 
participation in either is severely constrained. In this sense they are "homeless" or aliens 
who live in between cultures. On the one hand, they are vulnerable and confused, and on 
the other, the experience they go through is a dynamic, relational, and a multi-layered 
process. They are hybrid and hyphenated Indian- Americans in search of their identity. 
Abrahamaic Pilgrimage & Theology of 'Exile' 

Asian American theologian Sang Hyun Lee views the Asian American experience 
of immigration to the United States in the light of the scriptural account of Abraham's 
pilgrimage to the promised land. The first-generation Asian American journey into the 
United States and subsequent experience of their rejection and life in the margins have all 
been given meaning in light of the story of Abraham, the Biblical patriarch. God called 
Abraham out of a land that was familiar to him to go to a land that would be shown to 
him at some point in the future. His obedience to God to go on a pilgrimage fraught with 
risks and perils earned him the title, "the father of the faithful." Lee argues that 
Abraham's experience in the scriptures parallels the sense of shame and dehumanization 
Asian Americans experienced at the hands of the dominant society when they came to the 
United States. Their journey to the United States and their continued marginality here 
differ from that of the earlier European immigrants. Again, unlike the European 



52 



immigrants for whom the assimilation pattern of American adaptation worked well, 
Asian immigrants experienced a marginality that kept them from assimilating into the 
dominant culture and drove them to self-confinement in isolated places. 

The Abrahamaic experience, however, can be more powerfully invoked to make 
sense of the second-generation young people's life at the borders and their sense of 
homelessness. Abraham's pilgrimage is characterized by his leaving the past, negotiating 
with the present and hopeful embrace of the future. A careful study of the Hebrew 
scriptures would reveal that Abraham was clearly in charge of his pilgrimage and not a 
passive victim of marginality. At every turn in his pilgrimage, he negotiated with the 
peoples, kings, and cultures on his own terms. He became a friend of the king of Sodom, 
also known as Mechizadek, the priest of the God Most High. While the parents' 
generation identifies with a vulnerable and marginalized image of Abraham, the second- 
generation young people may want to identify more with the successful and powerful 
image of Abraham. In both images of Abraham, one would see that he maintained a God- 
centered spirituality. Whether at the zenith of his success or at the nadir of his defeat, he 
experienced the presence of God. The image of a successful or vulnerable Abraham 
standing before the altar of God built in the liminal space provides the second-generation 
young people of our study the needed spiritual resources as they negotiate their way 
through the maze of the mainstream culture. In racialized society, marginality of second- 
generation Asian Americans may be a permanent state of affairs. Sang Hyun Lee notes, 

"Asian Americans are a diverse people who left home, either in their generation 
or from an earlier generation. We have been going through a wilderness of 
liminal in-betweeness, and have been in need of reincorporation into structure. 



53 



We need to come home. But the dominant group in America resists our arrival 
and keeps us at the edges of this society." 

However, the young people are on a pilgrimage to a multicultural society in which 
no one group would suffer the indignities of marginality. The experience of Abraham's 
pilgrimage toward a promised goal in the future provides a sense of hope to transcend the 
persistent reality of marginality. 
Opportunity for Ministry 

The ethnic church still operates using the earlier understanding of a vulnerable 

and marginalized pilgrim on a journey. Even after the demography shifts in favor of 

second-generation young people, the ethnic church is controlled by the parents' 

generation and the clerics from India. By asking "How can a local church be 

authentically local if it is not incarnated, enfleshed, in the cultural milieu of its own 

people?", Christopher Duraisingh answers, 

Such a rootedness involves all dimensions of the church's life: liturgy, 
spirituality, fellowship, proclamation, theology, nurture, service. It includes an 
inculturation of the styles of church governance and architecture. How far from 
this our churches are today! Too often their life and liturgy reveal the culture of 
another place, often the birthplace of the denomination; or the culture of another 
time, eg. the period of the Reformation. 9 

To serve effectively among the young people, the church must come up with new 

symbols and new ways of thinking. Preaching, Bible study, music, and worship all must 

reflect the local experiences of the young people to be able to communicate with them, to 

empower them as well as to help them develop their identity. 



54 



Model Minority Expectation 

The young people in this study are expected to perform well in school and, later 
on, as professionals. Within this community, a college degree is the minimum 
expectation. Many parents push children to go for professional programs like that of the 
seven-year intensive medical school right after high school. Parents see young people as 
extensions of themselves, and as a continuation of fulfilling their dreams in coming to the 
United States. In many ways, despite all the odds of beginning a career in a foreign 
country, parents themselves have been able to do well professionally and financially. 
This has been true especially of those who arrived at the beginning of relaxed 
immigration in the mid-sixties. As doctors, nurses, engineers and professors, these 
immigrants entered the workforce in the early seventies. Though the arrivals since then 
were not professionally as qualified as the earlier arrivals had been, they worked harder, 
sometimes holding more than one job, and together the Asian minority has come to the 
top level of household income for all Americans. And, according to recent statistics, the 
Asian Indians top the income levels of all minority groupings. 10 In a similar way, they did 
well educationally. In the early years of immigration, technology and science-oriented 
educational institutions in the United States attracted foreign students from India for 
graduate studies, and after their studies many of them have stayed and worked for multi- 
national corporations. Today, their children, second-generation Indian American students, 
are admitted in large numbers, disproportionate to their national census, in all categories 
of American educational institutions. 11 Being in a community of affluence and 



55 



educational achievement brings enormous pressure on all members, especially the young 
people, to do well and to keep up the pace. 

However, this success of Asian Americans has also triggered a nativististic 
tendency to become a bounded or closed community. Mainstream society's stereotyping 
of Asian Americans as a "model minority" has had a cynical purpose and agenda. It is 
used to discredit other minorities who are not "making it in America" and in need of a 
social safety-net, arguing that if Asian Americans can succeed, so can Blacks and 
Hispanics. This creates a wedge not only between Asian Americans and other minorities 
but also among Asian Americans themselves. Moreover, policymakers and government 
planners hold this view of a model minority to divert funds and other resources from 
those Asian Americans who do need the government safety net and instead to allocated 
them to other minorities. 

Regardless of the dominant society's view of Asian Americans and governmental 
social policies, the expectations of the Indian American community for the second 
generation continues to drive the young people to excel both academically and 
professionally. This is quite evident among the young people of our study. Societal and 
parental expectations, coupled with their own need for survival in a tough competitive 
market drive them to leave behind their adolescent years without having resolved the 
issues related to adolescence. With parents working more hours to keep up with the 
economic pressures, and no adult role models from their own community to consult with, 
young people often find their own friends to help them with choices. In many ways, as in 
the case of their parents when they first came to the United States, our young people are 



56 



pioneers and trailblazers, charting their own course in the wilderness of their parents' 
diaspora. 

Do the young people find their inherited faith community a source of help and 
guidance with regard to vocation? According to the young people, their faith community 
is burdened with the agenda of the adults, priests and bishops. Certainly, the formation of 
their spiritual identity is influenced by their understanding of the community's 
expectation of them and by the lack of meaningful support they receive from that 
community. 
Minority Identity and Theology of Success 

Motivated to please their parents and lured by lucrative professions, second- 
generation young people study hard during their high school and college years with a 
career in mind. Parents tell their children that only if they study hard, will they as a 
minority person be able to make it in this country. Given that young people are expected 
to carry on the tradition and save the name of their families and communities by doing 
well economically and professionally, parents will be extremely disappointed and hurt if 
young people entertain any contrary thoughts or ideas of vocation less lucrative or 
prestigiously professional. Very little thought or regard is given to the young person's 
own gifts, talents, interests or dreams. 

This community expectation to do well academically and professionally grew out 
of the perceived need for survival in a hostile environment as well as creating an identity 
based on success. However, what is perceived by the parents' generation, who came to 
the United States solely for economic well-being, and what is perceived by the second 



57 



generation, who see the need for survival not just for themselves but also for a wider 
community, are very different. Value placed on success differs between generations. 
Early followers of Jesus and the society surrounding Jesus expected of him 
something totally different from what he offered. Politically, they expected him to be 
their messiah who would drive out the Romans and re-establish the kingdom of Israel. 
Disciples wanted him to be a king with power and authority. The masses wanted him to 
be a miracle worker. However, he chose a different path and vocation. The vision that 
led him was larger, the need he perceived for the society was different, and the 
community he envisioned was beyond the narrow borders of Israel. 

A closed community, solely interested in self-preservation and afraid to venture 
outside its self-imposed walls, cannot develop a vision larger than maintaining its narrow 
parochial concerns. However, to assume that young people, who grew up in the space 
between the parents' ethnic community and the peer mainstream community, do not have 
their own vision for the future, is to ignore the historical and contextual elements that 
have molded their identity. The continued marginality they experience in their contextual 
setting, instead of turning them inward as in the case of the parents' generation, causes 
these young people to dare to take on vocations that seek to promote the welfare of all 
concerned. The authors of Common Fire analyze this experience thus: "Vulnerability- 
based marginality can numb the will and fuel despair, it can also nourish compassionate 
action and fire an imagination of possibility." 13 The marginality that produces this kind of 
response is a gift: 

Even when it carries a price, marginality can also bear certain gifts: greater self- 
knowledge, greater awareness of others, and a kind of comfort with life at the 

58 



edge. The central gift of marginality, however, is its power to promote both 
empathy with the other and a critical perspective on one's own tribe. 

The life and mission of Jesus, who was born and brought up in the margins and chose to 

stay in the margins till his death on the cross, provide the basis for a Christian's life and 

choice of vocation. Contrary to the expectations of contemporary society and his own 

followers, he chose the path of a suffering servant for the benefit of all. He set his eyes on 

a mission that exacted from him the ultimate price, his own life. Frederick Buechner 

defines this view of vocation as "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep 

gladness and the world's deep hunger meet " 15 

Opportunity for Ministry 

What are some of the ways the ethnic congregations can guide the young people 

with respect to their future and vocation? How do ethnic congregations help young 

people develop a Christian perspective on success? The dependence on spiritual 

leadership from India continues to hamper the effectiveness of ethnic church ministry 

among young people. However, although this may be the case at the present, the ethnic 

church can quickly become young people oriented by encouraging and recruiting talented 

and gifted young people from its own midst to go for theological training for future 

leadership in the church. They could also serve as role models for future generations of 

young people in the church. For this to happen, the ethnic church must begin to shift 

focus from serving primarily first-generation immigrants to also include also serving the 

second-generation young people in areas they need to be served. 



59 



Profession of Faith versus Practice 

The young people in our study are extremely concerned about the wide gap 
between the preaching and practice of faith. They say that they go to their ethnic 
churches, not for spiritual uplift, but rather for its social and cultural value. They learn 
about faith more at annual retreats and other youth gatherings, where the topics discussed 
and issues raised are closer to their own reality. What goes on in their inherited church is 
so far removed from their everyday lives that they do not see any meaning in their 
participation, whereas for adults the involvement and worship in the church brings back 
memories of a religiously meaningful past from Kerala, in the hope that at least some of 
it will pass on to the younger generation. 

What little they receive from the pulpit is often characterized by its morally 
righteous tones. They hear about the negative influences of the mainstream society and 
receive the practical advice to be vigilant against them. Young people are disturbed by 
this "us" against "them" approach to faith. Instead, they like to hear how they can be 
involved in the society in which they find themselves and become agents for change. 
They are also concerned about the struggle among adults for leadership positions, 
occasionally manifested in loud bursts of open and ugly confrontation with one another, 
even to the point of congregations breaking up for good. Congregational life is removed 
from the faith that it is preaching. 

Another aspect that is absent both in rhetoric and practice is racial understanding 
and celebration of racial and cultural diversity. The inherent racism forming the basis of 
their inherited faith and tradition - Syrian Christian - is kept as a community secret 



60 



which everybody acknowledges, but no one dares to challenge. For young people, who 

are exposed to manifestations of racism in the mainstream society, it is difficult to fathom 

their own "Christian" community's deplorable racism. How do these contradictions and 

conflicts of their inherited faith community mold the ongoing process of their identity 

formation? As identity is formed not in a vacuum or in a static way, contextual factors 

will continue to play a role in this evolutionary process. 

Theology of Household of God 

In the New Testament the early believers were called as the members of the 

household of God. In his letter to the Ephesian Christians, Apostle Paul writes, 

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with saints and 
also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of apostles and 
prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 16 

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the dividing wall between the Jews and 

gentiles was broken down and the enmity between them ceased to exist. The 

particularities, differences, and identities of people remain while the hostilities, 

exclusions, and domination stop within the household of God. Commenting on I 

Corinthians 12:13, which reads, "For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body 

-Jews, Greeks, slaves or free- and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." Miroslav 

Volf writes, 

The resurrected Christ, in whom Jews and Greeks are united through baptism, is 
not a spiritual refuge from pluralizing corpreality, a pure spiritual space into 
which only the undifferentiated sameness of a universal human essence is 
admitted. Rather, baptism into Christ creates a people as the differentiated body of 
Christ. Bodily inscribed differences are brought together, not removed. 17 



61 



Identities are important and preserved in the household of God. They are non-alienating. 
What is central to this concept is that believers in their particularity come together in non- 
alienating new humanity. Understanding the ethnic church in the light of this concept fits 
theologically well for the people on a pilgrimage. 

Do the CSI congregations of diaspora serve as a household of God to the young 
people? In the early days when the number of immigrants was relatively small, the Indian 
worshipping communities showed resemblances to the household of God concept of the 
early church as well as to Abraham's temporary altars. However, today, the ethnic Indian 
church functions more in the manner of temples with walls built by Ezra and Nehemiah 
during the period of Israel's exile. As the number of Christian immigrants has increased, 
denominationalism, regionalism, and factionalism have replaced the earlier 
characteristics of inclusion and ecumenism of the Indian congregations. Today, not only 
can the ethnic Indian churches claim to be a community of believers in the margins, but 
they have become communities that are engaged in increasing marginalization within its 
own four walls. Scripture says that during Abraham's pilgrimage, he not only built altars 
and worshipped God but also negotiated with the local peoples and cultures and formed 
communities. Abraham's example of engagement with the other in the Old Testament 
and Paul's vision of household of God remain a challenge for Indian ethnic 
congregations. 

Regardless of its current diminished spiritual status as a household of God for the 
Indian Christian immigrants, the churchholds out promising signs for transformation. 
The second-generation young people continue to come and participate in the activities of 



62 



church. For the young people, who themselves feel alienated and marginalized within the 
power structure of the church community, the church provides a space for them to be 
together and to be empowered. 

Though the ethnic church can play a far more powerful role in their lives, it 
currently serves the congregants in a limited way as a place of refuge and a place where 
they can invoke the past. In this sense for the Church of South India community in New 
York City, their congregations play a crucial role. Members come from great distances to 
attend worship in their own language with their own people and to be together as a 
community. The ethnicity that caused their rejection in the mainstream society becomes 
the rallying point for their being together as a church. In their coming together to worship 
God as an ethnic community, the place becomes central to their relationship with God. 
Yet, they are shortchanged. 

Notwithstanding the potential values of an ethnic church to the people, to be an 
authentic household of God the ethnic churches have a quite a ways to go. A closer 
examination of the ethnic churches reveals many hidden fault lines. Power in the church 
is usually concentrated among a few financially well-off middle-aged men. Young people 
and women are only minimally allowed to share in the power. There is marginalization 
even within the walls of the ethnic church. 

Young people, idealistic and innocent in their faith commitment, are put off by 
the power play and politics practiced by adult men and the passive role adult women play 
in their ethnic congregation. Also, young people, who have had contacts with other 
minorities at school and at work and are interested in expanding their social circle, are 



63 



discouraged by the exclusivistic nature of their ethnic church. They see a divide between 

what their faith stands for and what is practiced within their faith community. Young 

people are looking for a community where their identity and ethnicity can be affirmed 

and celebrated and where they will be challenged to take a leap of faith in forming 

community with 'the other.' 

Life at the borders or on the margin is temporal in nature. Unlike Abraham who 

erected altars and engaged and negotiated with the local cultures, the CSI community 

sees itself to be an entrenched community that uses the church as a fortress to separate 

'the other' from their midst and a hideout to keep it from outside influences. Also, unlike 

in the household of God concept of the early church, there is marginalization, 

domination, and hierarchy within the ethnic church. The ethnic church operates itself on 

the assumption of a permanent status. On this point, Lee writes, 

Another way to look at the particularity of the Asian American ethnicity is to 
point to its fundamentally dynamic and open character. Asian American identity 
and ethnicity is not an eternally fixed reality; it is in the making. And the making 
of this something new requires the creative energies inherent in the in-between, 
liminal condition of Asian Americans. One of the essential tasks of the Asian 
American church would be to free up the creativity of the in-between people 
affirming them for what we are. The household of God, in other words, has to be 

1 ft 

a place where Asian Americans can dream dreams. 

The concept of a household of God as opposed to a temple of God may be a better 
fit for the ethnic church that operates in the margins. However, for an ethnic church to 
become a household of God, it must first learn to share power within itself; it must open 
itself to others who struggle for their dignity and identity, and must not seek permanence 
to the point of losing its liminal nature and creative focus. If an ethnic church in the 
margin is understood in the light of the household of God concept of the New Testament, 



64 



it could become the locus for growth for the socially dislocated young people. In this 
supportive community young people would experience their religious and racial identities 
as affirmed. 
Opportunity for Ministry 

By definition, the young people are at that time of their life when they are poised 
to take off on a pilgrimage of their own. It is important for them to have a home base to 
come back to whenever they need to from wherever they are in their journey. By 
providing a home base for them to come back time and again to gather resources and to 
be empowered, a home parish modeled after the household of God vision would be a way 
to minister to the young people. A congregation modeled after the mother church would 
only serve in bringing back the memories of the past. It will not help our young people 
prepare themselves for the future or provide them with an identity strong enough to aid 
them in negotiating with the mainstream culture. Again, this calls for the development of 
local leadership, especially from the young people. 
Identity and Facing the Black and White Racial Divide 

Another important environmental factor that shapes the formation of identity is 
the racial consciousness of the mainstream society. Until recently, the census 
questionnaire had only three categories, white, black and other. This was the case when I 
first came to the United States, and I always categorized myself as "the other," meaning 
that I was neither white nor black. My race was defined in terms of black and white. 
However, the latest census form has nineteen categories for race, mine included. Yet the 
American landscape is still viewed along the black and white divide, with Asian 



65 



Americans lost in it. All the non-whites are lumped together as "colored," as if all the 
non-white folks share some common identity. If at all there is such a identity, it is again a 
negative one, and that is that they are not white. The ethnic young people of our study 
growing up in this type of environment, where they have to identify with a "catch-all" 
category for identification of their race, are at a clear disadvantage at the start. 

As far as their participation with either race, black or white, is concerned, there is 
much confusion. Their features and color are different, with the result that they will not 
be able to participate fully with either race. It is clear from my conversations with young 
people that their parents' generation prefer their children to associate with whites, as this 
would place them on a higher rung in the social "ladder" of upward mobility. The young 
people, however, find a certain solidarity with blacks, as they themselves have 
experiences in the dominant society similar to those of their black counterparts. There is 
considerable tension among Indian parents with respect to their children's participation 
with African American youth and their identification with their issues. 19 Regarding this 
issue, Sunaina Maira quotes Amrijit Singh's observation in her dissertation on second- 
generation Indian Americans: 

Unlike their parents, they have African American friends and have developed a 
better understanding of how racism and poverty operate in American society. 
Although their responses may not fit a sophisticated intellectual view of race and 
ethnicity, these young Asians appear to know at some level that the alienation 
they feel at work or school is experienced even more intensely by their black 
peers. They are also often in tune with rap and reggae; maybe the deep sense of 
"alienation" expressed in contemporary black music resonates with their own 
sense of rebellion against their parents' double standards: an insistence on seeing 
African Americans harshly through the prism of caste even as they cloak 
themselves in the highest ideals of fairness and equal opportunity. 



66 



The parents' generation, who grew up in the privileged class and caste structure in 
India, find it only natural to identify with powerful and privileged whites in the United 
States. Though their acceptance into the white institutional system was anything but 
welcoming, they resisted associating with blacks as this would have been equivalent to 
associating with the low castes, whom they had oppressed in India. Regardless of the 
violation of their rights in the dominant society, the first generation resisted seeking 
solidarity with other minority groups and fighting for equality and justice. The first 
generation has been too ashamed to admit that they do not share equal status in the 
dominant society, and they are too proud to identify themselves as victims. They opt to 
suffer silently. 

However, second-generation young people, whose peers include African 
Americans and whose studies in school covered the history of slavery and the civil rights 
movement, are more aware of the plights of black people in the society. They see that 
their own experience has similarities with that of their black counterparts. Unlike the 
parents' generation, they do not suffer the indignities silently. In this, they reach out to 
their black friends to join hands with them to fight for equality. They see that their 
parents have been too timid to stand up for their rights and/or too hypocritical with 
respect to racism. There is substantial attitudinal difference between the first- and second- 
generation Indian Americans about racism in the United States. Whether or not our 
young people experience rebellion towards their parents, there is no doubt that they find a 
camaraderie among their African American counterparts. 



67 



Theology of Identification 

We have seen in the section dealing with the American racial divide, how the 
first- generation young people find it difficult to identify their marginality with that of the 
black community in the United States. It is ironic to note that what made the Asian 
immigration possible in the first place was the result of the passing of the Civil Rights 
Act in 1965, which was fought for by the black civil rights movement in the sixties. The 
Indian immigrants, born after colonial rule ended in India, were also the beneficiaries of a 
free and independent India. Thus, never having had to fight for their independence in 
India or for the Civil Rights Act that led to their arrival in the United States, first 
generation Indian Americans are mostly self-focused and self-centered. Identification is 
possible only when a self-centered identity is given up as the ultimate goal. The tendency 
for isolation among first-generation immigrants can also find its roots in fear and mistrust 
of 'the other.' What we see in the scriptural account of Ezra and Nehemiah to get rid of 

1 

all foreign peoples and send away all foreign wives from among the people of Judah 
was the result of a self-centered identity and mistrust of the other. However, as we have 
seen earlier, second-generation Indian Americans are more politically astute and do not 
feel beholden to the dominant white society. 

The scriptural account of Moses growing up in Pharaoh's palace and his eventual 
identification with the oppressed provides a model for coalition building for the second- 
generation young people. Unlike their parents' generation, second generation young 
people can be intentional in their decision to participate with the least and needy. They 
can rise above the narrow confines of their racial and tribal lines and identify with other 



68 



minorities in building coalitions and partnerships for justice and equality. The authors of 

Common Fire write, 

Forming a sense of one's own particularity, one's own tribe, is an essential human 
activity. But the kind of citizens we need in the complex social and ecological 
realities of the twenty-first century are the kind that Cornel West describes in his 
book, Race Matters. West writes of "race-transcending prophets," people who 
never lose contact with their own particularity, yet refuse to be confined to it. 
They are able to engage with people of other tribes as full human beings, 
enlarging rather than relinquishing their networks of belonging. Having practiced 
compassion across tribal boundaries, sometimes nourished by the circumstances 
of marginality, they have come to a deeply held conviction that everyone counts. 

Jesus provides the ultimate example of letting go of privilege and status by taking 

the form of a human in solidarity with the plight of the poor, sick, alienated and wretched 

of the earth. Miroslav Volf summarizes Jurgen Moltmann's thoughts on the significance 

of the cross: 

The sufferings of Christ on the cross are not just his sufferings; they are 'the 
sufferings of the poor and weak, which Jesus shares in his own body and in his 
own soul, in solidarity with them.' (Moltmann 1992,130). And since God was in 
Christ, "through his passion Christ brings into the passion history of this world the 
eternal fellowship of God and divine justice and righteousness that creates life" 
(131). On the cross, Christ both "identifies God with the victims of violence" and 
identifies "the victims with God," so that they are put under God's protection and 
with him are given the rights of which they have been deprived.(13 1) 23 

Opportunity for Ministry 

If the ethnic church is willing to wake up from its self imposed hibernation, it can enter 
into a wide array of ministries with unlimited possibilities. Currently, the ethnic church 
focuses its attention on structural building and self-maintenance. Too engrossed in its 
own affairs, the ethnic church is passing up opportunities to be involved in society and to 
be a witness. While the parents' generation may be aware of the social ills and problems, 



69 



young people are concerned about them and are willing to get involved. This may be a 
occasion for the ethnic church to work with young people and to give them leadership 
and moral support. The Indian Christian group may find that they could build coalitions 
with similar groups on common issues of interest and concern. Whereas in other areas, 
the Indian ethnic church may want to seek support in capacity building from groups who 
have a long history of consciousness raising work. Young people are especially attracted 
to this type of community involvement and participation. 
Conclusion 

I have outlined a few factors among so many that may describe the environment, 
in which young people of today live, study, work, and socialize. All these contribute and 
interact in a dynamic way towards the formation of their identity, an identity they may 
find drastically different from that of their parents' generation. Growing up protected 
from many environmental factors crucial to their development, young people are often 
denied valuable experiences and discoveries that could enhance their racial and spiritual 
identity. However, I submit that growing up exposed to the cultural context with proper 
guidance from adult mentors in a supportive faith community based on a theology that is 
affirming, meaningful and transformative would help them develop their own identity In 
an attempt to formulate a theology that would provide meaning to the contexts in which 
the young people live, study, work, and socialize, I identified four specific contexts. 
They are: homelessness, expectation and vocation, profession of faith verses practice, and 
racism within community. Each of these contexts within which the young people of our 
study grow up poses tremendous problems to overcome and great possibilities for youth 



70 



ministry within ethnic and mainstream churches. Ethnic church by definition and by its 
location is not in a position to minister to the young people. As the ethnic church is 
primarily concerned about the spiritual well-being of the first-generation, it does not have 
the time, resources, or the sociological understanding to create and sustain a youth 
ministry to be of any value. Youth ministries the individual congregations are currently 
engaged in do not meet the social, intellectual or spiritual needs of young people. Their 
primary goal is to see that the CSI tradition from Kerala would continue through the next 
generation. This is a disservice to young people and to the future of the CSI tradition in 
the United States. 

The young people of the CSI congregations need to be empowered through youth 
ministry. They show great promise despite the narrow and self-centered goals of their 
community. The church must identify the young people who show potential for spiritual 
vocation and encourage them to go for seminary studies. Only locally grown spiritual 
leadership will be able to understand the lives of these young people and adequately 
address their needs. For this to happen, however, the ethnic church needs to let go of its 
self-focus and its dependence and reliance on Mother Church from India. It must reach 
out to the mainstream denominations for joint and collaborative work at least among 
young people. In the next chapter, I shall attempt to suggest some possible ways for the 
mainstream church to be part of this enterprise of ministering with the immigrant 
communities and second-generation young people. 



71 



End Notes 

1. Fumitaka Matsuoka, Out of Silence: Emerging Themes in Asian American Churches (Cleveland, OH: 
United Church Press, 1995), 21. 

2. M. Shawn Copeland," Self-Identity In A Multicultural Church In A Multicultural Context" in 
The Multicultural Church ed. William Cenkner, (New York: Paulist Press), 8. 

3. Matsuoka, 19. 

4. Peter Phan, "Religious Experience in Ethnic and National Contexts," in Ethnicity, Nationality and 
Religious experience, ed. Peter C. Phan (Lanham. MD: University Press of America, Inc., 1995), 1. 

5. Anna Chacko-George, "Iconoclasm, Shattering 'Ethnic Minority' Youth Work" in Disorganized 
Religion, ed. Sheryl A. Kujawa (Cambridge, MA: 1998), 82. 

6. Ellen T. Charry, "Editorial: Who's Minding the Children," Theology Today Vol.56, No 4 
(January, 2000): 451. 

7. Genesis 12:1-3. 

8. Sang Hyun Lee, "Pilgrimage and Home in the Wilderness of Marginality: Symbols and Context in 
Asian American Theology," Amerasia Journal 22:1 (1996): 149-159. 

9. Christopher Duraisingh, "Gospel and cultures: some key issues" in Break the Chains of Injustice. 
ed., Paraic Reamonn (Geneva: World Alliance of Reformed Churches, 1996) 45. 

10. Paul Ong and Suzanne J. Hee, "Economic Diversity" in The State of Asian Pacific America: Economic 
Diversity, Issue & Policies: A Public Policy Report, ed. Paul Ong (Los Angeles, CA: LEAP Asian 
Pacific American Public Policy Institute and UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 1994), 36 

11. Ibid, 37. 

12. Civil Rights Issues Facing Asian Americans in the 1990s: A report of the United States Commission 
on Civil Rights, (February 1992.), 19. 

14. Laurent A. Parks Daloz, Cheryl H. Keen, James P. Keen and Sharon D. Parks, Common Eire: Leading 
lives of commitment in a complex world (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996), 74. 

15. Frederick Buechner, "Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (New York: Harper & Row, 1973) 
quoted in Laurent A. Parks Daloz, Cheryl H. Keen, James P. Keen and Sharon D. Parks, Common 
Eire: Leading lives of commitment in a complex world (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996), 196. 

16. Ephesians 2:19. 

1 7. Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace, A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and 
Reconciliation (Nashville: Abington Press, 1996), 48. 

18. Sang Hyun Lee. "Pilgrimage and Home in the Wilderness of Marginality: Symbols and Context in 



72 



Asian American Theology," Amerasia Journal 22:7(1996): 149. 

19. Sunaina Maira, "Chaste Identities, Ethnic Yearnings: Second-Generation Indian Americans in New 
York City." (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University Graduate School of Education, 1998), 283. 

20. Amarjit Singh, "African American and the new immigrants" In Between the lines: South Asians and 
postcoloniality, eds., D. Bahri and M. Vasudeva (pp. 93-1 10). (Philadephia: Temple University Press, 
1996) quoted in Sunaina Maira, "Chaste Identities, Ethnic Yearnings: Second-Generation Indian 
Americans in New York City." (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University Graduate School of Education, 1998), 
283. 

21. Ezra 10:11; Nehemiah 10: 29-30; 13:23-29. 

22. Laurent A. Parks Daloz, Cheryl H. Keen, James P. Keen and Sharon D. Parks, 74. 

23. Volf, 22. 



73 



Chapter VI 
Toward A Multicultural Ministry 



In the preceding chapter I have sought to provide a theological rationale for the 
racial and spiritual identity development of second-generation young people, first by 
examining the cultural conditions in which they experience their lives, and then, by 
connecting their experience to the scriptural archetypes. I have also sought to establish 
how assisting second-generation young people in the formation of their racial and 
spiritual identity itself becomes the task of ethnic youth ministry. However, so far we 
have talked about this ministry only from the perspective of the ethnic church. In this 
concluding chapter, I intend to move our discussion of ethnic youth ministry from a 
strictly ethnic church program to a mainstream church initiative. Here, what I suggest is 
not based on any survey or scientific research, but is shaped by what I have read and by 
what I have observed as a person who has one foot in an ethnic church and another in the 
mainstream church. Of course, this new perspective would call for a radical shift in our 
understanding of the territorial and jurisdictional claims of both the ethnic and 
mainstream churches. It would also mean that further research and focused study will be 
needed for this initiative to be effective. 
State of the Mainstream Church 

In both acculturation and socialization, the mainstream church lags behind 
mainstream society. Schools and colleges, offices and assembly lines, marketplaces and 
high tech industries all show a more integrated image of the American population than do 



74 



the pews of a church on a regular Sunday morning. Ethnic restaurants in our cities and 

towns are frequented not just by their respective ethnic groups but by all. The cars we 

drive, clothes we wear, electronic items we use, medicine we practice, and even some of 

the words we use regularly all carry distinct ethnic cultural markings. However, these 

multicultural experiences of our everyday life are worlds away when we come to worship 

on a Sunday morning. Reflecting on the implication of the homogeneity of churches for 

the young people, Robert Wuthnow states: 

Still another implication is that church increasingly becomes an enclave over 
against a more heterogeneous world. Young people go to church because that is 
the best place to associate with other Korean Americans, or with other white 
middle-class Anglos. Most churches are quite homogeneous; in comparison, the 
schools are not. And there is value in being able to associate with people like 
oneself. But young people will also realize at some point that the church has 
become out of step with the wider world. They will look back on the church of 
their youth, and they will be embarrassed by its parochialism. 1 

In this regard, one challenge for the churches, whether mainstream or ethnic, is to 
provide a culturally affirming and theologically inclusive place for worship as well as a 
source of inspiration for multicultural living. 

Another challenge facing churches today comes from market-oriented globalism. 
With the collapse of communism, capitalism has emerged as the sole winner. With no 
ideology or system of values or beliefs strong enough to compete with, market capitalism 
has taken over the task of homogenization of the world. Today, American music and 
movies, television, ideas and information are flooding the world, threatening the viability 
of local cultures with very little resistance. In his discussion of the negative impact of 
American culture, Joe Holland points out, 



75 



....modern American culture - with its powerful techno-sci entitle commitment to 
autonomous definitions of freedom and progress-may also be destroying the 
ecological, social, and religious foundations of the life system on planet earth. 
Modern American freedom and progress may be producing their dialectical 
opposites. The global culture may be emerging only to face the death of all life at 
every level from the womb to the planet. In the meantime, American culture 
seems to be propagandizing the world with a trivialized definition of sexuality and 
massive celebration of violence. 

The church no longer exerts the influence and power it once had in the world. The 
church has also lost its role as a critical voice, because very often it is associated with 
Western capitalism and values. With its role diminished and identity maligned, the 
question for the church today is how it can continue to be a spiritual, moral and social 
force, and offer itself to free people from the grip of dehumanizing forces in the world. 
Young people increasingly fall victim to modern market forces as the advertising industry 
exploits their vulnerability to fashion and trends. Worship and Bible studies are no 
match for the shopping malls and music concerts in competing for their attention. The 
ethnic churches are also beginning to see this trend as young people stay away from 
church. Getting young people to show a sustained interest in the church and its activities 
is a task for both the mainstream and the ethnic churches. 

Another major challenge that confronts the church confronts hits close to home - 
our spirituality itself. The church no longer holds any monopoly in being the only 
provider of spirituality. The church has been reduced to one of the players in the 
marketplace of spirituality, expected to justify its claim on people as a keeper of morality 
and spirituality in America. In the ever-so-crowded marketplace of spirituality, the 
church is forced to employ modern techniques of advertising to get the attention of a 



76 



spiritually inclined public. It can no longer count on a traditional market share to sell its 

'commodity.' Citing an article in the World Policy Journal, Litonjua writes, 

What may be worse is that 'the church may well respond by reconfiguring itself 
into something of a knockoff of the culture industries,' by embracing the 
advertising and marketing strategies of Madison Avenue in hyping the gospel. 
The Pope has already entered the ranks of big-advance authors in the employ of 
global publishers, and has become the pitchman of a multimedia package for the 
rosary (video and compact disc) in television, radio, and print ads. The danger is 
the "Disneyfication of Catholicism," the promised kingdom of God blending into 
Disney's Magic Kingdom-'a promise fulfilled in the here and now, and one with 
abundant merchandising and shopping opportunities.' 

However, the breakup of religious monopoly has not affected regular church 

attendance as much as was once thought, according to Robert Wuthnow. He says what 

has changed is the people's reliance on 'wider ways' in seeking spiritual inspiration. 

Young people's interest in spirituality is also shaped in the same marketplace where they 

see their parents shop. As Wuthnow states, 

Young people may have little interest in all this; much of it, after all, is for 
middle-aged baby boomers going through a midlife crisis. But young people also 
live in a spiritual marketplace. They see their parents searching all over the map. 
They know more about the Bible from movies than they do from attending 
church. They take "spiritual inventory" tests in Seventeen magazine. And they 
dabble at ouija boards and crystals and pyramids. 5 

What we see happening in the erosion of the church's once singular hold on 

spirituality is an outcome of yet another social phenomenon sweeping across the world, 

post-modernism. One of the chief characteristics of post-modernism is that the concept 

of 'one center' no longer has any validity, supplanted by multi-centered reality and a 

world of permanent motion and instability. As to how young people view their being in 

such a world, Martin E. Marty writes, "Most youth are overwhelmed by the relativism 



77 



that come with postmodern observance." 6 And as to how they seek their identity and 

spirituality, he says, 

In their search for their vocation, their way has its own decisive stamp, they are 
involved as are so many adults today in establishing some sort of identity in a 
world of flux. They seek some measure of authority in the midst of relativism and 
relativity. They want some spiritual experience, not merely to be told about 
spiritual experience. 

No youth counselors or elders can come onto such a scene and find a ready 
audience of young people who will give privileged access to churchly authority or 
traditional texts. 7 

Caught between the homogenizing forces of market-driven globalism and the 

decentralizing influences of post-modernity, the church today finds itself in a situation 

similar to that faced by the early church. Much of the known world in the early centuries 

of Christendom was under the homogenizing sway of Roman rule. At the same time, 

early Christians lived their faith amid a society exposed to a plethora of religious beliefs, 

philosophical ideas and spiritual systems. Paul's letter to the Corinthian Christians says, 

Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth-as in fact 
there are many gods and many lords-yet for us there is one God, the Father, from 
whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through 
whom are all things and through whom we exist. 

The ethnic church also is not immune from the influences dogging the 

mainstream church. Perhaps the ethnic church may be undergoing even more turbulence, 

as it has only recently crossed over geographically from a traditional society to a modern 

society. The task of youth ministry today is to provide young people a stable mooring 

within a faith community as they make their voyage through the uncertainties of these 

times of change. 



78 



A Common Challenge 

In the previous chapter, I identified four sets of particular cultural conditions that 

characterize the formation of racial and spiritual identity of ethnic young people of our 

study, namely, pilgrimage and homelessness, expectation and vocation, faith and action, 

and identity and identification. And in this chapter, so far, I have reviewed the challenges 

the mainstream church faces, namely, resistance to changing the dominant status from 

within, and globalism and post-modernism from without. A careful analysis of the 

cultural conditions of both the ethnic and the mainstream church reveals that the resulting 

situation is similar in nature for both groups. The difference between the two is one of 

location of their lived experience. Ethnic young people experience their marginality or 

homelessness on the borders, whereas mainstream youth experience their increasing 

marginality within the existing power system. On the marginality of the young people of 

the mainstream church, Sheryl A. Kujawa observes: 

There are no mysterious reasons why young people so often fail to participate in 
congregational life. For the most part, they are not welcome, and in many 
instances there are no opportunities for meaningful participation. Perhaps there is 
no room in the liturgical life of the congregation for the contributions of young 
people, or the language itself seems irrelevant, or the concepts do not apply to 
daily life. This pattern will be reversed only when our congregations take 
seriously the evangelization of young people in all aspects of its life. 

The young people's sense of alienation comes from the lack of understanding and 

mentoring they receive from within their faith community. Young people in their teen 

years experience enormous pressure from the competing demands society has placed on 

them. This is the time they are vulnerable and in need of connection from the adults and 

other members of their faith community. It is the time the church needs to provide the 



79 



young people with a spiritual home. However, the church has neglected to carry out its 

vocation of ministering to the young people at a time of crucial importance. It is no 

wonder that they leave church in droves after confirmation. Ethnic young people would 

do the same except that they have nowhere else to go, a unique problem of living in the 

border. They are too lonely to leave the church community and too frightened to cross 

the border. 

Both groups of young people take their faith seriously, to the point that they want 

to experience it personally in their own lives. Faith and action go hand in hand. Liturgy 

cannot be separated from social action. Symbols and rituals that may make sense to the 

parents' generation do not carry the same meaning without being understood and 

experienced in the lived reality of the second generation in the here and now. Perhaps 

what they think of the disconnection between the talk and the walk is best expressed in a 

speech made by Richard Shaull in 1966: 

Our traditional discussions about God, his otherness and his sovereignty, may 
make little sense today, but we describe the freedom, openness and hope that are 
possible in a world over which he is Lord. A new generation may not pay 
attention to our former complicated discussions of eschatology, but they might be 
interested in an apocalyptic perspective on the present world that combined a 
sense of urgency about revolutionary change, the acceptance of the possibility of 
deepening crisis and tension in the present order, and expectant appropriation of 
new responsibilities precisely in the midst of this crisis. We may not talk much 
about Jesus Christ, but we can point to his concrete benefits in the midst of our 
lives today. And out of this openness to crucifixion, a new theological 
resurrection may once again take place. 10 

On the question of expectation and vocation, experiences are similar for both 

groups. Their respective faith communities have conflicting expectations of them. They 

work and live in an environment that sends out competing and contradictory messages to 



80 



them. However, in terms of support, very little is provided by their communities, neither 

mentors nor role models. Parents often find it difficult to accept their children's decision 

to live out their own callings and commitments. Yet the institutional church is alarmed at 

the lack of young people seeking ministry as a vocation. Kujawa notes, 

Currently, however, the median age of Episcopal Church seminarians is thirty- 
nine and is in no danger of falling. Because younger people in their twenties with 
vocations to the ordained ministry are not welcome in many of our dioceses, they 
go elsewhere to exercise their leadership skills. 11 

In the case of the ethnic young people our study represents, the expectation of the 
community is that they seek careers in lucrative professions rather than follow a 
commitment for the common good. Second-generation young people of this community 
seek ordained ministry extremely rarely as it is not terribly welcomed either by the 
community or the church hierarchy. 

As in the case of vocation, the community's expectation of young people is that 
they identify with the dominant and powerful. The socialization process of the dominant 
community encourages its young people to stay within their social milieu and maintain 
their social standing and status. The ethnic community, despite its marginal status, 
encourages its young people to strive for associations with institutions of power and 
influence. Again, it is a matter of where one is placed within the hierarchy of power, not a 
question of commitment for the common good. Young people object to this outlook 
initially but later on fall victim to the majority view of social maintenance. 
A Common Ground 

The similarities in conditions experienced by young people in both the ethnic 
church community of our study and the mainstream church community call for a search 



81 



for common ground. Even in this post-modern era, the church finds itself offering moral 
leadership and spiritual vision for the wider society. However, among the positions the 
church expects the rest of the society to follow are some which it does not seem to follow 
itself 

For our discussion, let us take the issue of segregated worship. The church 
promotes desegregated public schools and housing; however, the spiritual home it has 
absolute control over is probably the most segregated among all public institutions. As 
the church expects and argues for a multicultural institution, let the church itself function 
as a multicultural church. A multicultural approach is called for not only for rhetorical 
consistency but also because it is in accord with the scriptural concept of the household 
of God. In their search for identity, whether it is racial, spiritual, gender, or ethnic, young 
people need a common ground to work this out, not divided and separated enclaves. If the 
youth ministry of the church is in working with young people to help them find their true 
identity, an inclusive framework is called for. I propose three ideas for our consideration: 
A Cross-cultural Experience 

In her book, "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? " 
Beverly Daniel Tatum talks about racial identity development. She uses 'the black table' 
as a metaphor for the emergence of black identity. In achieving an understanding and 
affirmation of one's own racial identity, the role one's own racial group plays is crucially 
important. However, this group unity is a luxury for most of the second-generation 
young people of our study, a tiny minority separated in different schools. It is difficult for 
them to find any community of their own group. For them their ethnic church can provide 



82 



the community they need and long for. If the ethnic church can live up to its calling and 
expectation, these young people can have both their racial and their religious needs met. 
However, for these young people to end their journey here is not to live up to their calling 
either. Having been fed and nourished, young people are called to enter a wider arena, 
perhaps to cross the borders and to engage and experience the other. 

While ethnic young people are being emboldened to do border crossing from the 
margins as a youth group, the mainstream church can prepare its young people to 
welcome them for a cross-cultural experience. Some of our churches send their young 
people to other countries for a cross-cultural experience. Without crossing the 
geographical borders and spending thousands of dollars, one can cross cultural barriers 
right here within one's own diocese. However, for this to happen, the youth leaders from 
both sides must work together in collaborative manner. 
A Multicultural Campus Ministry 

Once the ethnic young people graduate from high school and go to college, they 
are without a faith community. However, unlike the schools they went to in their 
suburbs, in college they can find many young people belonging to the same ethnic 
community. It is a familiar sight in a college cafeteria to see young people belonging to 
the same ethnic group sit at the same table, much like the table of empowerment Tatum 
discusses in her work. As they "hang out" and "chill" at these South Asian Tables (SATs) 
in the college cafeteria, education for the future is taking place. This is where they learn 
all that stuff about life and identity not taught in classes. However, for most, college life 
can be spiritually very challenging. That a culturally sensitive and identity- affirming 



83 



"spiritual home" in college is unavailable to young people must be a matter of great 

concern for the church. 

I suggest that the mainstream church, which has the resources, make its existing 

campus ministry more welcoming to ethnic students. For most people, students of Indian 

ethnic origin are Hindus. However, that is far from the reality. There are a large number 

of Indian students from Christian familes who are in college. Ethnic churches do not 

have the wherewithal to support a campus minister in each campus where there are ethnic 

Christian students. About the need for evangelization in college campuses, Kujawa says: 

Recent studies also suggest the importance of ministries in higher education in the 
task of the evangelization of young people. Gallup polls have confirmed that 
young people begin leaving the church between the ages of twelve and sixteen. 
Though young people tend to make faith commitments in their teenage and young 
adult years, the Alban Institute has determined that they do not automatically 
return to the church once they have left, 'unless room is made for them and 
invitation extended in that period between the ages eighteen and twenty-nine 
when the urge to commitments comes.' Moreover, other statistics suggest that 
over fifty percent of those who affiliate with the Episcopal Church in adulthood 
do so through the ministry of higher education. 

The presence of a multicultural campus ministry on our university and college 

campuses would be a natural addition to an educational institution. Ministering to ethnic 

students involves affirming their racial and spiritual identity. The viability of some of the 

ethnic churches beyond the first-generation immigrants is increasingly tenuous due to 

their undue reliance on Mother Church back home. When some of these ethnic young 

people go back to their ethnic community years later, the church may not be there. A 

multicultural mainstream church in the community will become the future spiritual home 

for many of the ethnic students on college campuses today. 



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A Multicultural Church 

There was a time when the mainstream church was involved in the socialization 

process of new immigrants into mainstream American life. However, accused of cultural 

hegemony, the church has kept itself back from this task of socialization of newer 

arrivals. Once again, having achieved sophisticated understanding of what is being 

multicultural, the church needs to be involved in this socialization process with new 

sensitivity. Moreover, the mainstream church will acquire multicultural sensitivity as a 

result of itself undergoing a radical change in its makeup and becoming itself truly 

multicultural. It cannot be the same as it was in the past. It has to be multicultural both 

in outlook and in composition. Reflecting on the mistakes of the past, David N. Power 

envisions how pluralism has to be fostered in an appropriate manner: 

In brief, in the U. S. American church that embraces many cultural groups how do 
we begin to find the ways to acknowledge the otherness of the other, and to 
consider the present in the frank light of the suppression of otherness in the past. 
Cultural pluralism is thus the issue of taking respect for the other, the demands 
that follow from respect for the other, and reconciliation with the other, as the 
basis for communion and unity in Jesus Christ. Only from this can a communion 
within cultural diversity ensue. 13 

It must reflect more and more the image of the concept of the household of God 

where everyone is equally valued and everyone's difference is counted as a gift and 

affirmed. In the household of God no one is left out; everyone lives in full respect for one 

another. The household of God can be likened to the household of the father who 

embraced his prodigal (marginalized) son and asked his older (insider) son to enter into 

the joyful celebration of being back together as one family again. 



85 



The crowd gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost reflects the nature and 
make up of a multicultural church. People speaking different tongues, belonging to 
different parts of the world and races all heard the good news proclaimed. No one was 
left out from hearing God's word. The birth of the church on the day of Pentecost 
marked the beginning of a movement from what was until then a monochrome to multi- 
chrome and monolingual to multilingual. It was a reconciled diversity at work. 

Multicultural church, demonstrated on the day of Pentecost in the Acts of 

Apostles, described as the body of Christ and household of God in the epistles, is a 

visible sign of God's grace in building faith communities of reconciled diversity. As the 

mainstream church in a multicultural society responds to God's call to serve, the church 

will become multicultural both in its outlook and in its ministry. The church will have 

multicultural staff like the early church had, not as tokens nor to fulfill certain quotas. 

A multicultural mainstream church will also actively and sensitively search for 

collaborative ministry with ethnic churches in the community. D. Power is to the point 

when he says, 

Reflection on the past, as it affected both the oppressed and immigrants of 
European origin, can open up new ways for receiving these communities with due 
respect for their cultural diversity, and with due regard for their rights, and with 
due attitudes of hospitality to their own distinctive ways of being. 4 

The second -generation young people, even though they grew up in ethnic churches, are 

multicultural in their outlook and will find mainstream multicultural churches to their 

liking. Given the theological mandate, and the harvest field of ministry being so ripe and 

plentiful, the mainstream church has no option but to be multicultural. Peter interpreted 



86 



his revelation in Joppa as follows: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in 
every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him." 15 

These are three ways among many the mainstream church can be involved in the 
ministry with the second-generation ethnic young people. The cross-cultural encounter I 
suggested can be implemented on a local level between the mainstream congregations 
and ethnic congregations in a community. As a first step, the youth groups from both 
mainstream and ethnic churches decide on occasional joint programs in the community. 
Depending on how successfully these joint efforts go, other local church groups from 
both mainstream and ethnic churches such as men's group, women's group, etc, would 
begin collaborative efforts in ministry. These efforts could eventually lead to occasional 
joint worship services. Young people whether ethnic or mainstream, growing up in this 
environment of close cooperation between churches, will develop a healthy attitude 
towards church and an understanding of themselves. This is essential to the development 
of a healthy religious and racial identity. 

The multicultural campus ministry would provide opportunities for young people 
from both mainstream and ethnic communities common forum for discussion on topics of 
mutual interest. However, young people may find common involvement in community 
service more interesting and meaningful. Moreover, such involvement may help them 
discern their future vocation and develop a vision for themselves and society. Higher 
education must go beyond training young people to be technocrats. A multicultural 
campus ministry may provide young people the essentials needed to develop a healthy 
identity, build skills for relational living, and foster global understanding. 



87 



As the American society is fast becoming a multicultural, the mainstream 
church cannot abdicate its responsibility of being the leader. The mainstream church 
should show its intent not only in making public pronouncements, but also in reflecting 
this in the way it conducts its business. It must initiate conversations with ethnic 
churches that are operating within the diocesan territory and see how then can enter into 
mutuality in ministry and missions. 
Conclusion: An All Embracing Household of God 

We have observed how church is central to the life of the Indian Christian ethnic 
community in the United States. It has taken on more significance to the ethnic 
community than it had in the country of origin. We have all also seen how the particular 
context of the ethnic congregations where the young people of our study come from 
shape the contour of their lives. Given the right kind of ministry and leadership, these 
particular contexts can be used positively by employing Biblical archetypes to build 
racial and religious identities for the young people. However, due to the nature of ethnic 
churches and their primary concern for the first-generation immigrants, the young people 
and their needs are often overlooked. 

This study makes a suggestion that the ethnic and mainstream churches work 
together in ministering to the second-generation young people under the rubric of a 
multicultural church. We have also observed how striking are the similarities of 
multicultural church to the household of God. Just as Abraham set out from his familiar 
ancestral home to a promised land, today's ethnic and mainstream churches are on a 
pilgrimage to become a church of God where everyone whether Jew of gentile, ethnic or 



88 



mainstream, male or female will be embraced. The road towards that goal may be 
uncertain and perilous, however, it is a journey the church must take. 

We live in hope for a future when the concept of the household of God will 
become the operating principle of the church, where both the once-marginalized and 
once-privileged journey together as members of the same household in the pilgrimage. In 
this pilgrimage, let us forego our fear of "the other"; instead let us embrace "the other" 
and become transformed. 



End Notes 

1 Robert Wuthnow, "Youth And Culture in American Society: The Social Context of Ministry to 
Teenagers" in Christ and the Adolescent: A Theological Approach to Youth Ministry: Princeton Lectures on 
Youth, Church, And Culture (Institute for Youth Ministry: Princeton Theological Seminary, 1996), p.73 
cited in M. D. Litonjua, Global Capitalism: The New Context of Christian Social Ethics, Theology Today, 
Vol.56 No.2), p223. 

2 Joe Holland, Faith and Culture: An Historic Moment for the American Catholic Laity? American and 
Catholic: The New Debate, ed. Joe Holland and Anne Barsanti (South Orange, NJ: Pillar, 1988), 27 

3 M. D. Litonjua, Global Capitalism: The New Context of Christian Social Ethics, Theology Today, Vol.56 
No.2), p225. 

4 Robert Wuthnow, "Youth And Culture in American Society: The Social Context of Ministry to 
Teenagers" in Christ and the Adolescent: A Theological Approach to Youth Ministry: Princeton Lectures on 
Youth, Church, And Culture (Institute for Youth Ministry: Princeton Theological Seminary, 1996), p.72 

5 Ibid., 72 

6 Martin E. Marty, "Youth between Late Modernity and Postmodernity," in Growing Up 
Postmodern: Imitating Christ in the Age of 'whatever ' Princeton Lectures on Youth, 
Church, and Culture, Institute For Youth Ministry, Princeton Theological Seminary, 
1998), p.36. 

7 Ibid., p.36. 



89 



8 1 Cor. 8. 5-6 NRSV (New Revised Standard Version). 

9 Sheryl A. Kujawa, Disorganized Religion, ed. Sheryl A. Kujawa (Cambridge, Cowley Publications, 1998) 
p. 228. 

10 Richard Shaull, "The Revolutionary Challenge to Church and Theology" in The Ecumenical Movement: 
An Anthology of Key Texts and Voices, eds.Michael Kinnamon and Brian E. Cope (Geneva: WCC 
Publications, 1977), p.303. 



n Kujawa Disorganized Religion, 228. 

12 Ibid., 225 

13 David N. Power, O. M. I. "Communion within Pluralism In the Local Church: Maintaining Unity in 
Process of Inculturation" in The Multicultural Church: A New Landscape in U. S. Theologies 
ed. William Cenkner (Paulist Press: New York/Mahwah,N. J. 1996), p.80. 



,4 Ibid., P.82. 



15 Acts of the Apostles: 10:34-35. 



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APPENDIX 

Interview Format 

Introduction 

I consciously tried to keep my interviews open-ended. I used the following questions as 
guidelines to elicit the information from the young people. I visited most of them at their 
homes in private space with very little interruptions or interferences from outside. After 
a brief explanation about the project, I went right into the interview. The time of the 
interview ranged anywhere between half-an-hour to an hour. 

I. Society 

Factual 

Were you born in this country, if so, where and when? 

If not, where were you born and when did you come to this country? 

When did your parents come to this country? 

Are you a citizen? 

Are your parents citizens? If not, what's their status? 

Do you have siblings? 

Where do you go to school? 

What level of education your parents have reached? Are they currently in school? 

What kind of community you live? Is it diverse? 

Attitudinal 

What kind of conflicts you face in society? 
What are the main points of contact in society? 

a. School 

b. Outside school 

c. Community 

d. Church 

How close are you with your friends from school, community and church? 

Do you feel that you have any influence on them, and do they have any influence 

on you? 

How do the adults (parents and influential elders) respond to you about your 

contacts, friends? Do they encourage or discourage? 

How do you identify yourself to people? 

Indian, American, Asian Indian, person of color, Keralite, Malayali, 

Christian, etc. Why so? 
Do you see any shift in your identification of yourself? Fluidity, multilayered 
identities. 

How do you feel about your identity, is it threatening or assuring? 
What is your fall back position? 



91 



What role does the church play in this liminal or threshold experiences? 

II. Church 

Factual 

Where do you go to worship? 

Only Indian? Why 
How much are you involved in the church activities? 
What kind of activities at the church you're really interested? 
Where were you baptized, confirmed, how many times you take 
communion? 

Attitudinal 

How comfortable are you in the church? 

What aspects of church are you happy with and why? 

Between all that goes on in the church, what satisfies your needs? 

What needs of yours are met, and why? 

What are your hopes for the church to meet your needs for belonging? 

Is it a place where you can be who you are? 

Do you sense a feeling of belonging? 

Are your value, worth and gifts are affirmed? 

HI. Identity Formation 

Racial and Faith formations 

What role does your faith play in crossing borders, as supportive 

mechanism? 

Where do you get much your faith from? 

How personally satisfying is the church for you? 

1 . It provides a comfort zone 

2. A community where you can meet people 

3 . Motivates one for living in the world 

4. To live life and for whom (multiple choice) 
How does church address your status as immigrant? 
What are some of the programs that addresses these issues? 
What are the hindrances and obstacles? 

Dichotomous problem? 

What relevance faith has to orient yourself in a multicultural environment? 

Sheltered existence in conflict filled milieu? 

Indian youth living a predominantly American fulture? 



92 



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